Kids Archive

The Best and Safest Carseat

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What Is the Best Car Seat?

BEST safest most desirable carseatblog recommended carseatI want the Best and Safest Carseat for my child. Before my first child was born, I tried to find information on what the best infant carseat was at the time; this was before Google, so not an easy feat. Then when he outgrew his infant seat, I wanted the best convertible seat for him, which led me on a multi-month search and ultimately to my becoming a child passenger safety technician instructor. We all want the very best for our progeny—it’s human nature. So how do we determine what the best carseat is?

If you’ve been around any carseat forums, you may have heard this timeworn phrase: the best carseat is the one that fits your vehicle, fits your child, and fits your budget. It seems so obvious, doesn’t it? Yet when we get to the store, or look online, we often throw caution to the wind and base our purchase on the appearance of the carseat. “Oh, I love the butterflies on this one,” or, “The red color of this carseat is so nice!” Or even, yes, “This one matches the baby’s nursery.”

Let’s examine each part of the phrase in detail.

Fits Your Vehicle

The carseat should fit in your vehicle moving less than 1” when you tug at the belt path. It will move more if you tug on it further away from the belt path because the only place securing it to the vehicle is at the belt path. If you’re buying a convertible carseat that rear-faces and forward-faces, you want it to fit both rear-facing and forward-facing. You cannot assume that just because it fits rear-facing, it will fit forward-facing too. Install it both ways before you buy it or keep the box and receipt so you can return it if it doesn’t fit when you get it home.

correct install testing at FF belt path

Fits Your Child

Your child *must* fit within the size and age (if any) requirements of the seat before being able to use it. For example, most rear-facing only infant seats require infants’ shoulders to be at or above the bottom slots. If your baby’s shoulders are below those bottom slots, she’s too small to use the seat. Another example is the Britax Frontier 90 combination carseat. Your child must be 25 lbs. AND at least age 2 to use this seat per the instruction manual.

Children also have preferences for carseats. Some kids don’t mind sparsely padded carseats, while others demand luxurious padding. Some children don’t tolerate certain fabrics or need harness shoulder pads. Trying your child out in the carseat in the store helps you determine which seat they may like.

 4-yr-old 40" FF in Momentum 4EVER HB Ody

Fits Your Budget

This is the “kind of goes without saying” part of the phrase. There are so many great carseats in so many different prices ranges now that with *any* budget, you can find a carseat to fit your requirements. Back when my son was born, if we wanted a carseat with EPS foam, we had two choices and both were over $150 (one was close to $300, if my poor memory serves me correctly). Parents back then really did go into debt to buy carseats. Now most carseats have some sort of energy management foam or system and you don’t have to promise that firstborn to a cult to get it.

Cooper Foonf Scenera NEXT

Use It Correctly Each and Every Ride

I’m adding in my own extra ending here. What’s the point of having a carseat that installs well in your car, fits your child well, and didn’t put you into debt if you don’t use it correctly every time? We techs all have seen the most expensive Clek and Britax seats with loose installations and loose harnesses that won’t do a darn thing in a crash for the kids riding in them. If you can’t use that carseat correctly each time, was it really a good deal? Nope.

You really can find a good carseat that meets all of the above criteria. By consulting lists, like our shiny new Comparison ToolRecommended Carseats List and our Carseat Reviews, and asking questions at our Forum, you’ll find the Best Carseat and learn from our mistakes.

Are You Making These Carseat Mistakes?

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MaggieMargeDriveMost parents think, “I got this,” when they look at a carseat. I mean, really, it’s just some straps that go over your kid, right? Everyone who has a kid has to use a carseat, and we all know there are some parents out there barely qualified to have kids in the first place who are able to get from point A to point B and keep their offspring alive, so it’s not rocket science, right? Wrong. Sometimes we make mistakes that we look back on and say, “I can’t believe my child survived my parenting!” It’s a saying in our house that we’re not saving for college; we’re saving for the therapists’ bills, lol. Let’s look at some very common carseat mistakes and see their simple fixes so your offspring can ride safely enough to make it to college… or therapy sessions—whichever way your family sways.

Loose Installation

Whether using the lower LATCH connectors or the seat belt for installation, your carseat moves more than 1” when you give a tug at the belt path. Make sure you tug at the belt path only; that’s the only place where the carseat is connected to the vehicle. If you check for tightness anywhere else on the carseat, it’s going to move more than 1″. There’s nothing holding it to the car there, right?

Let’s define “tug”. A tug is like a firm handshake or a shake on a shoulder that doesn’t move someone’s head back and forth (heh, you don’t want to give them whiplash). You use your non-dominant hand to give this tug so you’re not tempted to shake the rivets out of the seat.

correct incorrect

Can’t Lock the Seat Belt (Loose Installation Corollary)

Sometimes your installation is loose because you can’t figure out how to lock your seat belt to keep it tight on the carseat. Seat belts lock either at the retractor or at the latchplate. All model year 1996 and newer vehicles must have locking seat belts and some vehicles manufactured before 1996 have them as well. The retractor spools up all the length of the belt and is hidden inside the wall of the vehicle or inside the vehicle seat back. At least 90% of all modern vehicles have switchable retractors that can lock the seatbelt to hold a carseat tightly in place.

This is how you test for a switchable retractor: Pull the shoulder belt portion of the seat belt out of the retractor slowly and smoothly until you reach the end and can’t pull it out any further. Then feed a few inches of the belt back into the retractor. You may hear a ratcheting sound as the seatbelt feeds back into the retractor in the locked mode (although some retractors are very quiet most will make a noticeable clicking sound once they are switched into locked mode). Stop after feeding a few inches of the belt back in and try to pull it back out again. If it won’t come back out, it’s locked and now you know that this seat belt has a switchable retractor that you must switch to the locked mode if you are installing a carseat in this seating position.

Other seat belts lock at the latchplate (male end of the seat belt). These are mostly found on Chrysler, Dodge and Jeep vehicles. To see if your seat belt locks in these vehicles, buckle the seat belt and pull up on the lap belt. If it holds tight, your latchplate locks.

lightweight locking latchplate

If you can’t get your seat belt to lock because your car was made before 1996, you have to use either a carseat with a built-in lockoff or a locking clip. If you want to read more about locking clips, you can click here. Lockoffs that are built into certain carseats are much easier to use than a locking clip and worth the extra price. Read about which carseats have lockoffs here.

Loose Harness

Yeah, you can’t just buckle the harness, it has to be snug on the kid or they’ll go flying out of the seat. If you can take a pinch of the harness above the chest clip, the harness is too loose so pull it tighter.

Pinch Test

Chest Clip or Belly Clip?

You know those plastic pieces that clip together across the kid’s middle? That’s called a chest clip. Some carseat manufacturers’ get all uppity and call it a harness retainer clip. Call it what does and where it goes and you’ll never forget! Chest clip. The top of the chest clip is placed at the armpits. Any higher and it’s at the kid’s throat, especially for babies. Any lower and it may not be able to do its job as a pre-crash positioner.

chest clips

Trusting Your Pediatrician for Carseat Advice

Do the initials “CPST” follow your pediatrician’s MD after his name? If not, he’s not qualified to give you carseat advice. Just like I’m not qualified to give you medical advice on your child’s rash (gee, that really does look like Ichthyosis en confetti—you should have that checked out), your ped is not qualified to give you advice on vehicle safety matters. Between charting, keeping up with ever-changing youth medicine, and making hospital rounds, most peds simply don’t have the time to keep up with the dynamic field of child passenger safety unless it’s a special interest. That’s why you come to us for answers on vehicle safety.

Turning Forward Too Soon

You may not admit it online, but turning your wee one forward before age 2 is really dangerous. I’ve heard all the arguments in my 14½ years of tech-ing: my child’s legs hurt because they’re scrunched, my best-friend’s-mother-in-law’s-phlebotomist’s-daughter’s-pediatrician told her to turn her son forward at 9 months because of a risk of hip injury, my child has to be able to see the DVD screen we spent top-dollar for, and so on. The truth is, if you turn your kid forward before age 2, *you’re* the one who is uncomfortable with the idea of rear-facing, not your child. Studies and years of rear-facing children have shown that rear-facing is not only safe, it’s loads safer for kids.

It’s so important to rear-face your toddler that two carseat manufacturers now mandate it, at least for some of their carseat models. Britax requires a 2-year and 25 lbs. minimum on all of their forward-facing harness-2-booster seats. And Dorel, parent company of Cosco, Safety 1st, and Eddie Bauer, says that your kids must be 2 before they can be turned forward-facing in several of their new convertible seats. I’m not pulling your leg—it’s right there in the manual.

NEXT manual

Commercials on TV claim that the best way to start your baby’s life is to use the best diapers or best formula (if you can’t breastfeed, of course). We feel the very best thing you can do for your kid in the child passenger safety world is to use an appropriate carseat or booster on every single ride. After the infant seat is outgrown, continue to rear-face your child until they reach the rear-facing height or weight limit of their convertible carseat. And install the seat tightly. And tighten the harness appropriately. And make sure the chest clip is properly placed. The crazy thing about kids and carseats is that there are so many things that can go wrong with them that we need an entire profession to help parents get it right! I remember making some of these mistakes—and more. Aye yi yi. It’s amazing we’re all still here.

Tweenbelt Safety

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aidenprotegewmI remember this one time when I was about six years old, my mom and some other parents were driving a big group of kids to swimming lessons at the YMCA. I didn’t know most of the kids—I think they were actually part of an after-school program at my friend’s school—but I remember that I sat in the back seat next to a big girl, who for some reason I remember was named Pam.

My mom told everyone to buckle their seatbelts, and Pam said, “I’m 13, so I don’t need to wear a seatbelt.” I was shocked that some other kid would a) not wear a seatbelt, and b) would talk back to my mom, but my mom handled it well. She said, “Well, I’m an adult and I wear one, so you will, too.”

I give my mom credit for being ahead of the curve (this was 30 years ago, after all, when it was common for kids to bounce around in cars, completely unrestrained). Times have changed a lot, in regard to car seats, booster seats, and universal seatbelt use, but all of us advocates know there’s still work to do.

Screen Shot 2015-05-27 at 12.16.17 PMRecently NHTSA launched a new campaign to help educate tweens (kids 8-14) and their parents about the importance of buckling up in the car. NHTSA found that as kids get older, they’re less likely to buckle up. During the past five years, half of children 8-14 years old who died in car crashes were unrestrained.

Reasons for this include a natural inclination to test boundaries, busy schedules (rushing to after-school activities), and peer pressure. Kids this age are typically responsible for their own buckling (as opposed to younger children in harnessed seats), so parents rely on their kids to get it right, and might not notice when they don’t. There are also still misconceptions about the importance of buckling up on every trip, Many people (kids and adults) think that short, familiar trips don’t require seatbelts. There’s also still a somewhat prevalent (and flawed) idea that people in the back seat don’t need seatbelts, so some parents might know their tweens aren’t buckling up but don’t see anything wrong with it.

Recaro Performance Booster - lap belt fitIt’s also important to remember that not all tweens are ready for the seatbelt alone. Until kids fit properly in the belt (usually not until between 8-12 years old, or when they’re about 4’9″…though it varies) kids still need booster seats. That not only improves safety, but also improves comfort. A 9-year-old with a shoulder belt across her neck is likely to put it behind her back instead, or might skip the seatbelt all together. See this post for more information on determining when kids are ready to ride without a booster seat.

So how can parents encourage seat belt usage in their tweens? Here are some tips from NHTSA and us:

  • Demonstrate seatbelt use: If parents don’t buckle up, their kids are less likely to.
  • Refuse to move: Sometimes when toddlers unbuckle their harness, we recommend parents tell them the car can’t move unless everyone is buckled. Do the same thing with tweens. They might know the car is physically capable of going, but that doesn’t mean you have to let it.
  • Offer an incentive: As soon as they’re buckled, they can have their 2015KiaSedona7Passengertabletvideo game, music, book, whatever. This also helps keep distraction to a minimum. A kid in the middle of a Minecraft game on his iPad might be too enthralled to stop for a few seconds and put the seatbelt on, so don’t let him have the game until he’s in securely.
  • Give them cold, hard facts: Kids this age are at a point where they can understand statistics better than smaller kids, so throw some (statistics, not smaller kids) at them. Tell them that most fatal crashes occur less than 25 miles from home, and at less than 40 mph.
  • Check on them: Take a glance back in the rear-view mirror, or turn around and make sure they really are buckled, and that the seatbelt is positioned properly.
  • Make them responsible: Remember (and remind them) that these kids will be driving themselves in just a couple years. Tell them that part of earning their license is proving that they can be safe and responsible in the car, and that includes buckling up on every drive, every time.

Kids Left in Cars: What Can We Do?

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Heatstroke_Window_Cling_MeanSun2

As my daughter and I dodged shredded tire treads on the freeway on the way to her oboe lesson, they reminded me that warm weather is here to stay and we should be cognizant of who is in the car at all times. As temps go up outside, they can climb even faster inside and anyone who is vulnerable—child, elderly person, or pet—can succumb to heat stroke in a short amount of time. Even moderate outside temperatures can produce deadly vehicle interior temperatures and cracking a window isn’t enough to air out the car.

When a vehicle is in the sun, it starts to heat up. We’ve all felt this when we’ve sat in a car with the engine off. What happens is the sun shines through the transparent windows and heats the surfaces in the car. The radiation from the sun touches the dashboard, steering wheel, and other solid objects, as well as floating air molecules we can’t see. Conduction works to heat the interior surfaces of the vehicle up quickly and convection moves the air molecules around faster and faster, causing them to heat at a rapid rate. Even leaving the windows down a crack doesn’t help because of the conduction heating the surfaces; the surfaces heat up, which cause the air inside to heat as well. What about a cloudy day where the sun’s rays aren’t shining through the windows? Let me tell you about the worst sunburn I ever got—on a cloudy day. The radiation from the sun still comes through the clouds and can heat that vehicle up.

The SUV in the picture below was left in the sun on a very pleasant morning for about a half hour. During that time, while the outside temperature was 66º, the inside temperature rose to 128º. The vehicle was set up for my Safe Kids coalition’s press conference and rescue demonstration kicking off our Heatstroke Awareness Campaign.

SUV in sun ready for rescue

A child left in the vehicle is at serious risk for heat stroke or death. Heat stroke is when the body’s temperature rises above 104º. A child’s body temperature rises 3-5 times faster than an adult’s and symptoms of heat stroke include red, hot, moist or dry skin, lack of sweating (their bodies have reached a point where they can’t cool down on their own anymore), headache, dizziness, confusion, and nausea. When a child’s body reaches 107º, their organs will shut down and death most likely will occur.

As much as we try to educate parents not to leave their children in vehicles, last year there were 30 children who died left in vehicles. Some of these deaths were accidental and some were intentional. It’s the accidental deaths where we can make an impact by making a few changes in our habits. But habits are hard to change and we have to be intentional in changing them. Can you imagine being this guy, who accidentally left his sleeping child in his SUV at the train station parking lot and remembered her when he got into the city? That had to have been the longest train ride back out to get her.

Time and again, a break in routine has been the reason a child has been left behind in a vehicle. The parent with the child is doing something out of the ordinary and forgets that the child is in the car or a daycare provider is overwhelmed with the number of children in the van and forgets the quiet one. From 1998-2014, 53% of children who died from heatstroke in vehicles were forgotten about by their caregivers. During that same time period, 29% were children who accidentally locked themselves in a vehicle while playing, and adults intentionally left 17% in the vehicle.

How can we address this problem and prevent it from happening again? First, we can stop blaming the victims and recognize everyone has the potential to forget their child. Sleep deprivation is a serious problem at some point for everyone who has a child and it can make your brain act in ways it normally wouldn’t. Laws may help dissuade caregivers who casually leave their children in vehicles as they run errands or get manicures, but they aren’t going to make a difference for those who forget their children. If you forget a child, you’re not going to remember them because of the threat of going to jail. Nineteen states have laws regarding unattended children in vehicles. Second, let’s be proactive, both as parents driving our children and as community members. Look in the car next to you as you get out to make sure a child, pet, or elderly person wasn’t left behind. Look in your business parking lots on broiling hot days AND teeth-chattering cold days. Safe Kids Worldwide gives us this handy acronym to help us remember to ACT to save lives:

A: Avoid heatstroke by never leaving a child alone in a car and by locking your vehicle so a child can’t get trapped inside accidentally.

C: Create reminders for yourself by putting your cellphone or wallet in the back seat next to the carseat. Also have your daycare provider call you and your significant other when the child is late or absent from daycare.

T: Take action if you see a child alone in a vehicle. This is an emergency and emergency personnel want you to call 911. Be cautious about breaking a vehicle window because you or someone else could be injured.

wheresbaby4

 

Thanks to Jan Null, CCM, San Jose State University for providing data and studying this topic for so many years!