The Spokesman-Review

Protecting a Precious Cargo

Far too many parents are becoming neglectful when it comes to properly securing infants and children before hitting the road

It’s the law: All 50 states and the District of Columbia require parents to properly secure infants and children meeting specific criteria in age-appropriate car safety seats, with 48 states and D.C. further mandating the use of booster seats for older kids.

Unfortunately, a recent study determined that far too many parents - while well intentioned - are missing the mark when it comes to restraining their kids.

The American Academy of Pediatrics in Chicago, Ill., recommends infants and toddlers ride in a rear-facing car seat until age two (or until they reach the seat’s weight and height limits), moving to a front-facing seat with a harness until at least age four, and then into a seatbelt-positioning booster seat until they’ve reached four feet, nine inches tall and are at least eight years old. The AAP further recommends children who’ve out grown their booster seats continue to ride the back seat until they’re at least 13 years old.

While most parents dutifully follow the rules regarding child safety, a recent study conducted by the AAA Chicago Auto Club in Aurora, Ill., found that three out of four car child seats are being improperly used or installed. Such infractions range from not fastening a seat tightly enough to moving children out of infant or child seats before it’s otherwise prudent.

“We’ve has made great strides in keeping its children safe on the roadways,” says Brad Roeber, regional president of AAA Chicago. “But, there are still some parents who need assistance to ensure their children are safely buckled up.”

Here are the 12 most common mistakes parents make with regard to child car seats, according to AAA Chicago’s report:

1. Moving a child out of a booster seat too soon. Seatbelts are designed to restrain adults, not children. Depending on the child’s physical development, a seat belt won’t fit properly until he or she is between the ages of eight and 12.

2. Not installing the seat tightly enough. A kid’s seat shouldn’t slide front-to-back or side-to-side, and there shouldn’t be more than an inch of “wiggle room” in the seat belt.

3. Harness straps are too loose. Child seat straps should be straight and flat and adjusted tightly enough to fully restrain a child in a crash.

4. The harness retainer clip is set too low. This should be set at armpit level for proper restraint.

5. Moving a baby into a forward-facing seat prematurely.

6. Allowing a child under 13 to ride in the front seat.

7. Neglecting the top tether. This secures a forward facing seat to the car and keeps the top of the seat from moving forward in a crash when a child’s head and neck could otherwise snap forward with excessive force.

8. Adding padding, toys or mirrors to a car seat. Such products may interfere with the seat’s performance or could come loose and become hazardous projectiles in a collision.

9. Installing a car seat via a vehicle’s built-in “LATCH” (Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children, required in all models since 2002) in the center position, when it is otherwise not approved by the automaker - check the owner’s manual for details.

10. Carrying unsecured items - including pets - in the vehicle. Again, these can become injury-inflicting projectiles under sudden braking.

11. Installing a car seat using both a car’s LATCH connection and a seatbelt. The AAA says parents should use one method but not both, as they often work against each other in a crash.

12. Allowing children to wear bulky coats while secured in a car seat. This can create undue slack in the harness system - it’s better to place blankets over kids in the car for warmth.

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