Safety Archive

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.

Deja Poop: You’ve Done It Before. Infant Seats

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new siblingAwwww. You’ve already had one kid and found that you did a pretty good job the first time around so you thought you’d try again. Maybe it was around that magical 15-18 month age when those little monsters are at their cutest. Buggers! I’m convinced that’s how the human race has continued for so long. It’s certainly not because of proper carseat usage.

During those first many months of our children’s lives, they suck the life out of us quite literally. We get virtually no sleep, sometimes don’t eat, definitely don’t shower occasionally due to loud demands forced upon us, and touch things we swore when we were childless that we would never touch. During this time, parents, and moms especially, lose brain cells due to the lack of sleep, constant touching, and demands from their little offspring. I’m sure there are studies that prove this, but years after having my children, I’m still making up the sleep and too busy trying to recover my lost brain cells to find . . . oh right, the studies.

Anyway, if you were like most parents, you probably used an infant seat for your first baby because that’s what you do for your first baby, right? Not necessarily, but it is a convenience feature for sure. Depending on the infant seat, there were adjustments you made as your baby grew. If you are using this infant seat again for your second, or third child, there are a few things you need to do to “reset” the infant seat so it’s ready for a newborn again and so you don’t ring me because the infant seat that fit your first bundle of joy so perfectly doesn’t fit your second at all and you’re panicking and befuddled.

First, if the seat has been in storage, thoroughly check it for mold and mildew. It’s gross to think about, but this is very common in many environments, especially if the seat has been stored in a basement or in a bag. You probably won’t believe me if I told you we have a black mold problem here in the desert where the humidity is less than 10% with a dew point of less than 20˚? It’s everywhere. If your seat has mold or mildew, it’s probably better to say goodbye to it. The only way to clean the mold is to use harsh chemicals, exactly what *all* carseat manufacturers tell you not to use, even on the plastic shell, and especially not on the harness. If it’s only the cover or harness that has mildew, you can order a new cover and harness from the manufacturer generally (some harnesses aren’t replaceable), but by the time you add up how much that costs, sometimes it’s about the same to buy a new seat. For recommendations, see our Recommended Carseats List.

Side note: If you’re borrowing a used infant seat, make sure you trust the person you’re borrowing the seat from with your child’s life. This is a safety item that has the potential to save your child’s life, remember. Ask them if it’s been in any kind of a crash, even a parking lot fender-bender (many manufacturers want their seats replaced after *any* kind of crash and don’t specify severity). Ask how they’ve cleaned the seat—did they follow the directions in the manual or did they throw everything in the washer? Harnesses should only be wiped down  with a washcloth and NEVER washed in the washing machine.

With today’s infant seats going to such high weight limits, your first child may have been in the carseat until he was a toddler. That means the harness was last adjusted to fit him as a toddler, not as a newborn. You’ll want to change the harness slot height back so that the harness is in the lowest slots. The harness of a rear-facing carseat should always be coming from the slots below the child’s shoulders. There’s an easy way to remember this if your kids are facing different directions in the car. A rear-facing child has the harness coming from at or below the shoulders, a forward-facing child has the harness coming from at or above the shoulders—they’re opposites of each other.

*Note that the video shows changing the harness height for seats with front-pull harness adjusters only. If your model has rear adjusters, read your owner’s manual because the method will vary by seat.

Some infant seats also have different lengths for the harnesses to accommodate wide weight ranges, from noobs to toddlers. If you look at each end of the harness where it attaches on the back of the seat to the metal splitter plate, there’s a loop that hooks onto the splitter plate. Some seats have a second loop a couple of inches up on the harness that makes the harness shorter for newborns. If your carseat has that second loop, detach the harness from the splitter plate and reattach it to the second loop to make the harness shorter. You WILL need to know whether the excess strap length goes in front of the splitter plate or behind it and in which harness slots you can use those second loops, so crack open that manual or find it online at the manufacturer’s website because the placement does matter.

SnugRide harness loops  SnugRide harness loops large

I bet you’re thinking to yourself, “I have the harness taken apart, I’m gonna wash this sucker because, boy, it sure looks nastier than I remember it being the last time we used it.” And it’s true! Baby things have a way of producing their own stains over time. And their own Cheerios. It’s some kind of natural law. You can probably get away with throwing the cover in the washing machine on the handwash cycle, but don’t leave me a nasty comment if it falls apart 😉 . You know the drill: consult your manual. Roll it up tight in an absorbent towel then hang it to dry or put it in the dryer if your owner’s manual allows. If your harness is removable and you have a new-fangled phone that takes insta-photographs, pop a couple of photos of how the harness looks before you tear it off the seat so you can remember how to put it back together. Never submerge the harness in water; it’s best to clean with a damp washcloth. If it’s extra nasty, wet a toothbrush with water and go after the spitup that way, then wipe down. You might could (oh darn! there’s that 3 years of living in the South coming back to me) put a drop of mild soap, like Dreft or Ivory or Dawn, on the washcloth, but then you’d have to wipe it down a million times to get it off. What a pain.

Don’t forget that carseats have a lifespan, just like you. It’s not some ploy to get you to toss money at the manufacturers. Plastics break down over time (just like your knees) and each manufacturer uses their own proprietary mix of plastics that determines the lifespan of each carseat they make. Cut back on the fancy clothes your child wears, not the safety items she uses if money is an issue. Look at the label that has the date of manufacture and the model number on it. Sometimes it will have the expiration date on it. Other times the expiration date is stamped into the plastic shell.

SnugRide DOM label SnugRide expiration label

So there you have it: how to reset your infant seat for newborn use. I have to be honest. If you’re not an infant seat user, you can apply all these techniques to a rear-facing convertible seat as well, but most people do use infant seats for their first babes at least, so that makes them pretty popular items to have around (and to borrow). Now, go forth and use that infant seat safely!

Update on Britax Marathon, Boulevard & Advocate ClickTight Convertible Harness Attachment Issues

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Britax ClickTight convertiblesBack in November, Consumer Reports published an article detailing safety concerns over the new Britax Boulevard ClickTight and Marathon ClickTight convertible seats. The Advocate ClickTight convertible model is also potentially affected.

We covered that story in depth here:

Consumer Reports on Potential Britax ClickTight Boulevard & Marathon Convertible Carseat Safety Issues

 

We want to emphasize that this only applies to the new “ClickTight” convertible models. All other Britax convertibles, such as the “G3″ or “G4″ models, are NOT affected. Frontier 90 ClickTight and Pinnacle 90 ClickTight Harness-2-Booster seats are also NOT affected. 

Today Consumer Reports shared an update on that issue:  http://www.consumerreports.org/cro/news/2014/11/two-britax-car-seats-could-pose-safety-risk/index.htm?loginMethod=auto

3/31/15 update: Responding to a follow-up inquiry, Britax informed us that it they had shared test data and information with NHTSA and “confirmed the performance” of ClickTight seats. The company also shared that the problem we noted—that the restraint harness was not securely attached to the hooks on the lower harness anchors—was “an initial assembly issue” affecting all Marathon ClickTight, Boulevard ClickTight and Advocate ClickTight seats manufactured between August 15, 2014 and November 7, 2014.

Marathon CT DOM labelAction Required: Owners of all Britax ClickTight convertible carseats (Marathon CT, Boulevard CT & Advocate CT) manufactured between between August 15, 2014 and November 7, 2014 need to check their seats and make corrections, if necessary. The sticker label with the date of manufacture can be found by peeling back the cover on top of the CT compartment.

If the harness straps are properly secured to the anchors they should NOT be able to loosen or work themselves free all on their own. Please note that the straps come from the factory set in the smaller harness length setting for children under age 2. For kids over age 2 you must detach the hip straps from the anchors and re-attach them without looping them under the bar. Britax has instructions that clearly demonstrate the correct way to secure the hip straps onto the anchor in both the longer and shorter harness settings here: http://www.britaxusa.com/uploads/products/additional-resources/43.pdf

 

Britax CT Infographic - with DOM

 

FYI – owners of newer CT convertible models will notice that the metal anchors have been slightly bent in at the opening which makes it harder to get the straps on and off.

Britax CT hip anchor - bent

Please share this info with your friends and family so we get the word out to as many Britax CT convertible owners as possible. It only takes a minute to check the harness straps and fix them if they are loose or detached. In this case the only thing we need to keep children safe is information on what to look for and how to fix it!

Borrowing LATCH Anchors

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Can You Safely Use Those Center LATCH Anchors?

There are 3 top mistakes we child passenger safety technicians see when we work with parents who want to do latch_symbolwhat’s best and safe with their children’s carseats: a harness that’s too loose, an installation that’s too loose, and a chest clip that’s too low. Following closely in 4th place is using the lower LATCH connectors in the center seating position of the back seat where they can’t be used. Really, any of these mistakes can be put in any order—they’re almost interchangeable given how often we see them.

Hold up, now. You mean I can’t use LATCH in the center seating position?

All passenger vehicles manufactured after September 1, 2002, have lower LATCH anchors (there are exceptions, of course). There are some vehicles that do have a specific set of lower LATCH anchors designed for use in the center position of the back seat, but most vehicles do not. That’s surprising to a large number of parents who rightly feel that the center of the back seat is the safest spot. It’s furthest from side impacts and LATCH generally is the easier method to get a tighter installation. So why is it that lower anchors aren’t available to be used in the center position and why is it that some CPS techs recommend using lower anchors in the middle while some don’t?

The Basics

Lower LATCH anchors consist of 2 U-shaped metal bars welded to a sturdy bar. The anchors are spaced 280 mm apart, which to those of us not used to the metric system measures out to 11” center to center. The lower anchors are a system, designed to be used together because they are all welded together as one big piece. LATCH altogether is a system as well: Lower Anchors and Tethers for CHildren. The Tether referred to in the acronym is on a convertible or combination carseat and is generally used only for forward-facing carseats to hold the top of the carseat in place (some carseats can be tethered rear-facing—that’s a different topic). We never call lower LATCH straps “tethers” but sometimes you’ll see them referred to as “lower connector straps.”

MDX LATCH assembly LATCH_sketch

First let’s discuss the concept of “borrowing.” Just as there are a variety of vehicles with back seats, so are there a variety of configurations for lower LATCH anchors. In all 4-door sedans, there will be 2 sets of lower anchors in the outboard (outside) positions, for a total of 4 lower anchors. You can safely install 2 carseats with those lower anchors. In sedans, trucks, and SUVs with big enough back seats, there will be a third set in the middle. Aha! That’s the key—space. Even though you may have 6 total lower LATCH anchors, you may not be able to install 3 carseats using those anchors. Think about it: the LATCH anchors are spaced 11” across and the narrowest carseats are 17” across. The math simply doesn’t add up. Again, in the widest back seats, you can do it, but you have to remember that LATCH was designed to be a convenience feature; it’s not going to work in all situations. In some vehicles, there may be 5 lower anchors: 2 on each outboard side with 1 randomly stuck somewhere in the middle. What engineer was smoking what when they came up with that design? Well, in this case, you can use lower anchors in the center by using the inside lower anchor from one outboard side with that randomly placed center anchor. The carseat will have an offset installation; that is, it won’t be perfectly in the center. Here’s an example:

2010 Honda CR-V has one dedicated center lower anchor

2010 Honda CR-V has one dedicated center lower anchor that is used with the inboard passenger side lower anchor

2014 Ford Focus has a set of lower anchors for each outboard position

2014 Ford Focus has a set of lower anchors to be used in each outboard position

2011 Acura MDX

2011 Acura MDX has 3 full sets of lower anchors

Can you use lower LATCH anchors to install your carseat in the center of the back seat if there aren’t any dedicated lower anchors in that position? Perhaps. This practice is known as LATCH anchor “borrowing” and you have to consult both your vehicle AND your carseat manual to see if they allow it. If one doesn’t, you can’t. It’s like asking mom if you can eat a piece of candy and she says no, so you ask dad. They both have to say yes. Why? Remember back to that lower anchor spacing of 11”. In a crash, forces are put on both the metal anchors (vehicle) and the plastic belt path (carseat). Because you are now using a spacing that is different than 11” (most likely more, and sometimes over 20”), the crash forces are coming at angles that either haven’t been tested for or have been tested but have failed.

Graco LATCH anchor wording

Graco LATCH anchor wording

Britax LATCH anchor wording

Britax LATCH anchor wording

Some manufacturers have tested for these contingencies and if you’re lucky enough to have a match, you can borrow those LATCH anchors.

2014 Ford Focus Borrowing

What’s a parent to do?

If you want to install your carseat in the center seating position with LATCH and your vehicle manual specifies that you have a set of dedicated lower anchors, go for it! It’ll likely be an easier installation for you. Don’t forget to check the label on the side of the carseat or the carseat manual for any LATCH weight limits, both rear- and forward-facing.

If you don’t have a set of dedicated lower anchors and want to borrow the inside anchors from the outboard positions, check both the vehicle AND carseat manuals to see if both allow it. The verbiage may be subtle (see the Graco manual excerpt), so if you’re unsure, don’t hesitate to call customer service.

If you don’t have specific lower LATCH anchors for the middle seating position, have no worries. A seat belt installation is perfectly acceptable since LATCH is a convenience feature. If, however, you find that you can’t get a tight installation using the seat belt and you can get a better installation with the lower anchors, it’s preferable to move the carseat to the outboard position and use LATCH. An installation where the carseat moves less than 1” trumps the center location of the back seat if you can’t get a tight install there.

Now that you know not to make the #4 mistake of borrowing lower LATCH anchors when you shouldn’t, it’s time to make sure that your child’s harness is snug enough, the chest clip is in the correct location, and the carseat is installed tightly enough. I’ve covered 2 of those mistakes in this article, so if you need a refresher on the others, take a glance at this blog: http://carseatblog.com/26763/carseatblog-quick-tip-proper-harness-tightness.