- You must not turn them forward-facing until 4 years old
- You can’t have 3-across carseats since your seatbelts overlap
- Don’t use a top tether because your child is 65 pounds
- You can’t have the handle up like that in the car.
Have you been told one or more of these Child Passenger Safety “Rules”, or at least something similar?
Most likely, the commandment was told to you as if it was etched on a stone tablet, but where did it actually come from? Is it the law? Is it in a manual? Is it advice from a reputable organization? Something quoted from a research paper or told to you by a doctor? Maybe someone told you it was the answer they were given by a customer service hotline? Perhaps it was something a friend at your weekly playgroup heard, or something you Googled in a post on an auto forum? How many times was the information passed along and distorted? Was it taken out of context? Are there exceptions to it? How do you know if it actually applies to your child, in your carseat, in your vehicle?
It’s pretty simple. There are Rules, there are guidelines and there’s everything else:
- Rules come in two forms. 1) State Law and 2) Your Owner’s Manuals, and not necessarily in that order depending on where you live! These are the limits and instructions that MUST be followed if at all possible. If you can find it in your state’s occupant protection laws or the manual that came with your car or carseat (or any published addendums or updates to these), then it’s a Rule and almost always applies to you.
- Guidelines come from all sorts of reputable sources. These include official printed brochures or online statements from organizations like the AAP, NHTSA, IIHS, Safe Kids USA, the CPS Board, MACPS and various others. These may also include sources such as classes given by Child Passenger Safety Technician Instructors, peer-reviewed and published articles from respected journals, presentations by manufacturer’s representatives or written correspondence from industry researchers or other experts. Most such guidelines are excellent advice and often form the basis for safest practice recommendations. Even so, they are still just guidelines and some may not even apply to you. Follow them if you can determine that they apply to your situation, but if they are not included in your owner’s manuals or state laws, then they are not universal rules.
- Then there’s everything else. That starts with verbal conversations with customer service representatives at manufacturer toll-free help lines. While they may have the best intentions, the answers can vary over time, even from the same rep! Websites like CarseatBlog* may fall into this category, especially when someone like me thinks they are smart enough to write an opinion on a debated topic! Or you might find a snippet posted online by a well-meaning certified technician who speculated about a confusing issue. Maybe a close relative who heard something from a TV news story and called to tell you about it? Perhaps you heard it from a friend, who heard it from a friend who read it on a secret facebook group? From expert commentary to third hand speculation to just plain crazy. Take all this hearsay with a grain of salt, because what you heard may be great advice, or maybe it just doesn’t apply to you…