Instructional Archive

The Pinch Test


How do you know if your harness is tight enough? Give it the Pinch Test.

Pinch TestYour child won’t be safe in his carseat unless his harness is snug. The Pinch Test is the accepted method for testing harness tightness.

An outdated method for checking tightness is to stick a finger (or two) under the harness at the shoulder, but because we all have different finger sizes, it can lead to very a loose harness.

It’s never been acceptable to “pinch an inch” of harness for tightness.


What Is a Child Passenger Safety Technician?


CPST stickerWhat is a child passenger safety technician? And why do I constantly have to explain that mouthful to everyone I introduce myself to? Who created this crazy title? I’m extra special in that I even have the word “Instructor” after my long title, which means that I must teach people how to be this mysterious technician thingy. So what are we all technical about? Because we can get quite technical about such things as crash forces, why there are weight limits for carseats, injury and death statistics, vehicle safety features, biomechanics, and other fun things. Yes, fun things :) . Do you know what a child passenger safety technician is? Did you know before you started Googling for information about carseats for your child?

A child passenger safety technician teaches parents how to use their carseat for their child. We teach the parent how to install the carseat in their vehicle and how to install their child (giggle) in the carseat. We’ll even help with the selection of the carseat for both the child and the vehicle because each and every time it will be a *custom* choice. What works for your sister or best friend may not work for you. Cars and babies are built differently and if the carseat doesn’t fit either perfectly, it can be a deadly combination.

So going back to this awful mouthful—child passenger safety technician—it’s on a lot of stuff that I own. It’sHW business card my profession, so I have business cards and clothing with the wording. My SUV has a sticker on the back window proclaiming that I am a CPST. It’s my third car with the same sticker; I guess at one point I thought someone might ask me about it, but no one has. I think for my next car I’ll leave the back glass pristine. It’s not as if it gets me into a crime scene or anything.

And you’d think that a certification, an actual certification that requires several days in class with several tests along the way (ask those who drop out of the class if they think it’s a piece of cake), would garner some respect. But it all goes back to the fact that no one knows what a child passenger safety technician is. Maybe we should be called Carseat Techs or Carseat Educators (but never Carseat Installers). I suppose that we’re likely not going to get much respect because the majority of us in the field are women and child safety issues aren’t sexy. Well tough, because this child passenger safety technician will continue to educate on safety issues, but I may introduce myself simply as the “carseat tech you have an appointment with.” It’s easier that way.

Tech Card

Why New Parents Get it Wrong


Most expectant parents spend countless hours making sure everything for the new baby is just right. They paint the nursery, pick coordinating crib sets, pour over catalogs and roam stores looking for the perfect coming-home outfit, type up their birth plan, and misuse swaddledebate names for weeks.

Yet as soon as these parents put their baby in the car for the first time, almost all of them make at least one critical mistake. Car seat advocates and experts have known this for a long time, but a new study by the American Academy of Pediatrics is highlighting it again: Almost all car seats are installed and/or used incorrectly.

After checking the usage of more than 250 families being discharged from a hospital in Oregon, researchers found that 93% of them made a serious error with their car seats. Nearly 70% left the harness too loose, and 43% didn’t install the seat tight enough. Thirty-six percent had a seat adjusted to an incorrect angle, and 34% positioned the chest clip too low. Other misuse included having the harness straps in the wrong position and using unapproved after-market products.

Why do doting new parents misuse seats like this? That’s a question safety advocates have asked for a long time. Usually it’s not because they don’t care; it’s because they don’t know.

Many parents fail to read the manual that comes with their car seat. I know manuals can be tedious and boring, but when it comes to a piece of safety equipment, it’s necessary. Just do it!

Another reason is that car seats are confusing. If they were easy, we wouldn’t need to have certified technicians to help people with their seats. Again, much of the confusion can be cleared up by reading the manual, but even that can’t solve everything. Car seats often need to be demonstrated, not just talked about on paper.

Finally, a lot of people just don’t understand crash dynamics. Most people have never been in a serious or even moderate crash. They don’t understand how strong crash forces can be, and what kind of effect they can have on a human being—especially a tiny one. It’s certainly not something I had thought about until I became involved in child passenger safety, and even now it’s sometimes hard to wrap my head around. Many parents just don’t understand the lifesaving role a car seat can provide, and how that safety can be compromised by not using them correctly.

How can new parents be better prepared? Here are some tips to help reduce the most common mistakes.

  • Read the manual! Really.pileomanuals
  • For rear-facing seats, the harness should be at or below the child’s shoulders—not above.
  • Tighten the harness so you can’t pinch any webbing between your fingers at the collarbone. On most seats, you’ll want to pull up excess slack from the hip area before tightening.
  • The chest clip should be level with the baby’s armpits. That puts the clip over the strongest part of the baby’s torso—not on the neck, and not on the tummy.
  • Install the seat with the seatbelt OR lower anchors, not both (unless your seat and vehicle both explicitly allow it, which is rare).
  • If you use lower anchors (LATCH) make sure the position in the car allows for it. Most vehicles don’t have dedicated LATCH anchors in the center seating position, and most don’t allow for borrowing outboard anchors for use in the middle (check your manuals).
  • Check to make sure your seat is installed tightly enough. Use your non-dominant hand to give a firm tug where the seatbelt or LATCH strap goes through. As long as the seat moves less than an inch, the installation is tight. It’s important to check for movement ONLY at the belt path. Checking at the top of the seat will make the installation seem looser than it is, and will probably wind up loosening up an otherwise good installation.
  • Check the side of your seat to make sure the angle is correct for a newborn. Some seats have a line that needs to be level to the ground, while others have indicators that include balls, bubbles, or colored disks that show how reclined the seat is. For newborns, the seat should be at or close to the maximum allowed recline.
  • If you’re using a rear-facing-only or infant seat, make sure the handle is in an allowed position in the car. Some seats require the handle to be up, some require it to be down, and some allow any position, so read the manual to find out what’s allowed on your seats.
  • Don’t use aftermarket accessories unless they’re specifically approved by the car seat manufacturer. Also, don’t attach hard or heavy toys to the handle of the seat while it’s in the car.
  • Don’t swaddle your baby or use heavy jackets or snowsuits in the car. Check our tips for winter weather to learn more.
  • Make an appointment with a certified Child Passenger Safety Technician before your child is born. A good technician will teach you to install and use your seat properly. A list of CPSTs can be found here, and also maintains a list of techs among its members.
  • Read the manual!

Aton 2 Declan

If you’re expecting, you’re probably doing everything you can to make sure your baby enters the world as safely as possible. Don’t skimp on safety once he or she is out of the womb.

Mythbusting: Once a 5-stepper, Always a 5-stepper.


While I may not be as intelligent as Jamie Hyneman, or as adorable as Kari Byron, I’ve been recruited back to CarseatBlog after a not-so-brief graduate school hiatus to do a little mythbusting—carseat style. So as a sort of geek-worship homage to Jamie, Adam, and the MythBusters crew—let’s get busting.

Myth #1: Once my child “passes” the 5-step test, they are done with boosters once and for all.

This myth comes straight out of my vast repertoire of personal experience as a mom of four.  This past Friday, I was recruited to drive my husband out of town for work.  While typically we would pile into the family minivan, it was a gorgeous Arizona day and I decided to take my 18 year old son’s little 5-speed Mazda.  Kyle’s little Mazda is great on gas and he has been safely transporting his 11 year old brother without a booster for the last few months, despite Aiden still needing a booster in our Odyssey.  As I reached the front door, I paused for a moment while Aiden’s old Paul Frank Clek Olli caught my eye over in the corner of the livingroom.  Should I…Should I not? It seems like just yesterday that Kecia outlined the 5-Step Test, using my oldest son Kyle as one of her models. Let’s do a quick review…

Kyle - 5-Step

Kyle – Passing the 5-Step Test, Circa 2009

Check…Check…Check…Check…Ut-oh.  While Aiden had been on some great adventures within our lakeside HOA community, his travels in the little Mazda had thus far been limited to a few miles here or there.  As I headed out the door for a two hour trek from Phoenix into Pinal County, I grabbed the trusty Clek Olli. In the minutes prior to arriving at our destination, a black cloud approached that would eventually result in one of the worst dust storms I have ever driven in.  Returning home with two sleeping kids, with highway visibility sometimes limited to 20 or 30 feet and in winds that were clocked at up to 60 miles per hour, I was confident in my decision to re-booster Aiden.  Because Aiden was never promoted to an adult seatbelt, returning to his booster didn’t seem like a demotion, either.

CONFIRMED, PLAUSIBLE, or BUSTED? I think that we can safely say that this myth is BUSTED. While your child may pass all five steps under certain conditions, longer drives, different cars, or other circumstances can change. And even though Aiden fits into the little Mazda seatbelt well, there’s no harm in him continuing to use an appropriately-fitting booster at this point. aidenprotegewm