Monday, February 11, 2008

Car Seat Safety Info

I rode to Costco last week with a friend of mine. I brought along our carseat, of course, for Pipsqueak to ride safely in, and as I was struggling to install it with the seatbelt in the back of the van she asked me if Pip ever just rode forward-facing. It was an innocent enough question, but it got me thinking about how strange some of my antics must look to others sometimes. And so in effort to de-strange myself (and also to educate anyone who may be wondering, since carseat safety is a little passion of mine), I am going to write a bit about carseat safety... I also just want to have all my information kept in one place so I have it on hand should I need it.

First of all, this website is a wonderful resource for car seat information:

Okay. First, I want to cover just a few of the basics, since roughly 90% of all carseats are not installed and/or used properly. When you get a new carseat, thoroughly read the entire instruction manual before installing and using it. Learn how to install it yourself, since you never know when you might need to (and your spouse/fireman/car seat technician won’t always be there to help you). Here are some general guidelines to remember when using a carseat:
  • Make sure you install it tightly so that there is less than 1” wiggle room at the beltpath (kneel down on it yourself to help get it snug). When installing, use either the seatbelt or LATCH, not both. Refer to your carseat’s instruction manual for particulars on installation. After you have installed your seat, have it checked by a certified Child Passenger Safety Technician.
  • A carseat should be replaced after any accident, no matter how minor, because of frame deterioration or alteration that may have occurred during the accident that could affect the performance and safety of the carseat. For this reason you should not buy a used carseat, since you do not know its history. Similarly, most carseats expire 5-6 years after their manufacture date. Plastics degrade over time, and carseats tested after 5-6 years do not meet current safety regulations. The manufacture date of a carseat is imprinted on the back or bottom of the seat. Discard after 5-6 years (unless you have the Sunshine Kids Radian65 or Radian80 seats, which have steel-enforced frames and therefore expire after 8 years rather than 5-6).
  • Make sure the harness straps are snug and secure on every trip. You should not be able to pinch any excess strap webbing and you should be able to fit only one finger between the strap and the child’s body.
  • When rear-facing, make sure you are using the harness straps just below (or just at) the child’s shoulders. When forward-facing, use the harness straps at or just above the child’s shoulders, in the reinforced slots.
  • Make sure the chest clip is positioned properly, even with the child’s armpits and holding the straps securely across the center of the shoulders.
  • Do not use any after-market accessories that create padding under the harness straps. This includes head supports, comfort pads, strap cozies, BundleMe’s, etc. Also avoid dressing your child in bulky clothing, coats, blankets, etc. These make it impossible to tighten harness straps adequately. They also can compress in an accident, creating space between the child’s body and the harness straps, and therefore leaving the child unprotected. Instead, dress your child in light, snug-fitting clothing, and use a blanket over the harness straps to cover the child.
Alright...onto the next topic I am somewhat passionate about: Extended rear-facing. What is it and why do I do it? U.S. law states that infants need to be kept rear-facing up to at least 1 year of age and 20 pounds in weight. Because of the way the law is worded, along with the wording of advice given by most pediatricians and parenting magazines, most parents believe that when their infant reaches one year of age and twenty pounds in weight they need to be turned forward-facing. What is not commonly known is that facing young children forward, though allowed by law, is not the safest option. In fact, the American Academy of Pediatrics actually recommends keeping your child rear-facing for as long as the seat allows (most convertible seats rear-face up to 30-35 pounds), regardless of age. Because the back and neck muscles and bones are still developing in the toddler years, the impact of a crash while forward-facing can have much more severe consequences than a crash sustained while rear-facing. Some facts to consider, taken from
  • “Rear-facing as long as possible is the recommendation of the American Academy of Pediatricians, and can reduce injuries and deaths. Motor Vehicle crashes are the #1 overall cause of death for children 14 and under.”
  • “Rear-facing is safer for both adults and children, but especially for babies, who would face a greater risk of spinal cord injury in a front-facing carseat during a frontal crash.” (“Rear-facing not only turns out to be safer for infants, but for people of all ages. In fact, we would all be safer rear-facing in cars, airplanes, trains and elsewhere. Of course, this would not be acceptable to most adults. Fortunately, adults are somewhat better able to withstand the forces on the head and neck in a severe crash when they are front-facing. Babies have very immature bones and connective tissue, and this is especially the case when they are younger than 1 year or under 20 pounds. For that reason, front-facing babies face a particularly serious risk of spinal cord injury in a frontal crash.”)
  • “Rear-facing carseats may not be quite as effective in a rear end crash, but severe frontal and frontal offset crashes are far more frequent and far more severe than severe rear end crashes.” (“According to Crashtest.Com, frontal and frontal offset crashes combine for about 72% of severe crashes. Side impacts are about 24%. Rear and rear offset crashes only account for about 4%. The NHTSA FARS database shows similar numbers. The odds of being in a frontal crash with a fatality or very serious injury are many times greater than being in a severe rear-end crash. Rear-enders are more common at lower speeds, though most injuries in these crashes are not as severe; typically whiplash injuries to adults, especially passengers lacking proper head restraint.”)
  • “Rear-facing car seats spread frontal crash forces over the whole area of a baby’s back, head and neck; they also prevent the head from snapping relative to the body in a frontal crash.” (“We know that frontal and frontal crashes are more frequent, more severe and usually have less ride-down time than rear-end crashes. In such a frontal crash, it is easy to see why a rear-facing carseat is a better choice. The entire shell of the carseat cradles the child's back, neck and head. Some seats even have foam protection in the shell to cushion the child even more. The crash forces are spread throughout the large area of the child's back and head, reducing the pressure during the crash, and keeping the head from snapping backward with respect to the body. Unlike when rear-facing, a child's legs and head are not restrained at all if they are turned front-facing. In a serious frontal crash with a front-facing carseat, the head and legs of the child are thrown forward like a rag doll, and serious forces are put on the child's spinal cord. In a front-facing carseat, only the harness couples the energy to the child's body. The smaller area of the harness means more pressure on the child.”)
  • “Rear-facing carseats are NOT a safety risk just because a baby’s legs are bent at the knees or because they can touch/kick the vehicle seat.”
For the reasons listed above, a child is safer rear-facing as long as possible: up to the maximum rear-facing weight limit of his/her convertible carseat, or until he/she outgrows the convertible carseat by height (refer to carseat manual for height/weight limit specifications). The weight limit on a carseat is an absolute: your child has outgrown his/her carseat when your child weighs more than the maximum weight allowed by the carseat. The height limit, however, is more variable. When rear-facing, the harness straps should be just below your child’s shoulders, and your child’s head should be between ½” – 2” from the top of the shell (refer to your carseat manual for specifics). Therefore, a child with a long torso and short legs may outgrow the carseat before actually reaching the height limit, and a child with a short torso and long legs may be able to use the carseat even after passing the height limit. The carseat we have (Britax Boulevard) will allow us to keep Pipsqueak rear-facing until he is 33 pounds, at which time we can turn him forward and continue using until he reaches either 65 pounds or he outgrows it by height (approximately 16 seated inches, from his bum to his shoulders), which will likely happen first since he is somewhat tall and skinny (at 15 months, 89% for height, 38% for weight). An additional safety feature of a Britax seat is that it allows for tethering rear-facing (Sunshine Kids Radians also have this feature). This helps stabilize the carseat even further.

Another facet of carseat safety that I am interested in is extended harnessing. U.S. Law allows children over 40 pounds to use only a booster seat. As in the case of forward-facing, though legal, this is not safe. 5-point harness car seats provide significant safety advantages over booster seats:
  • The crash forces are spread over the skeletal body over five points rather than three.
  • The crash forces are spread to the strongest parts of the child’s body.
  • Forward head excursion (the distance the head is thrown forward) is lessened.
  • The child is secured in the correct seating position rather than being able to wiggle around, lean forward, play with seat belt straps, etc.
Q: What advantages does a 5-point harness have over a seatbelt?
A: Child Passenger Safety experts agree that the 5-point harness is the safest, because it provides the snuggest fit and is suitable for the widest range of children. 5-point harnessed car seats offer a much snugger harness fit than an adult seatbelt. In all 5-point harness seats, the straps come down over the shoulders and across the hips to fasten to the buckle that comes up between the legs. The harness sits snugly against the bony parts of the pelvis (the crotch and hip straps) and across the shoulders and rib cage (the shoulder straps). When a child moves forward in the seat, as they would in a crash, the properly tightened harness is already "holding" the child and it immediately restrains them, spreading the crash force out across the strong bones of the body. The child does not move before loading the restraint.A 5-point harness has several advantages for child of any age or size. The straps are placed on the child's shoulders and low on the hips, so that crash forces are absorbed by the strongest parts of the child's body instead of the soft abdomen (which could result in internal injuries and even death). Source:

Also, for more information on extended harnessing, here is an interesting article written by Child Passenger Safety Technician Kris Abbink.

As you can see, the safest option for children is to be secured using a seat with a 5-point harness for as long as possible. Unfortunately, there are still relatively few car seats that allow for this. See this website for some good information on high-weight harness seats:

So there's my information on car seats. I have a bit of a paranoia when it comes to cars and safety and have done a lot of research on the subject. Any questions, as always, just ask! And thanks for letting me share my information here!

1 comment:

Malsmom said...

Yeah im glad to know that i am not the only car seat freak out there. Mallorie is RF in a Boulevard at 23m!!!!!!!!!

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