Instructional Archive

Top 5 Pro Tips for Keeping Kids Safe in Cars

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I want to begin by saying that I am certain you are doing your very best to keep your babies and children safe in the car. It’s not your fault that carseats are so confusing. I commend you for coming to CarseatBlog for reliable and accurate child passenger safety information. You’re way ahead of the class already!

Below are 5 Pro Tips that all parents and caregivers should know:

1. Rear-face as long as possible. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that toddlers remain rear-facing until at least 2 years old or until they have outgrown their carseat in the rear-facing position. Carseats can be outgrown by weight or height but it is more common for children to outgrow seats by height so that’s something to keep your eye on. Most babies will outgrow a typical infant seat (aka, rear-facing only seat) by height at around 12 months although some will outgrow it before then and some will still fit well past their first birthday.  Whenever you are ready to move your baby to a bigger carseat (you don’t have to wait until it’s outgrown to switch), buy a convertible carseat and install it in the rear-facing position. With frontal crash forces spread out over the entire back of a rear-facing seat, this position does a great job protecting the vulnerable head, neck, and spine. I always joke with parents that I wish I could ride rear facing!

2. Check the angle of the rear-facing carseat.  Understand if, and how, your child’s carseat reclines by reading the instruction manual. Seats that can be used both rear-facing and forward-facing (convertible carseats) usually have specific mechanisms that change the angle of the seat depending on intended use. Make sure you have the carseat configured properly for the direction in which you are installing it. Most rear-facing seats have some type of recline angle indicator. It could be a liquid bubble level, or a window that shows different colors or just a line on the side of the shell. Additionally, some rear-facing seats have 2 recline levels; one for newborns with no head/neck control and one for older babies who prefer to sit more upright and have good head/neck control. Even some forward-facing seats have the ability to recline to different angles depending on weight limits but make sure you understand what is and isn’t allowed.

3. Install with LATCH or seatbelt but not both. All carseats must be attached to the vehicle using either a seatbelt or LATCH connectors but pick one system and don’t double up unless the instruction manual specifically allows that option. Using both LATCH and seatbelt together doesn’t make the installation safer, if it did the instructions would tell you to do that! The carseat should be secured tightly so that when attempting to move the seat or base (with one hand grabbing near the beltpath), it does not move more than 1 inch from side to side or front to back. The most common causes of a wiggly carseat are that 1) parents haven’t mastered the finesse of tightening belts or 2) they don’t understand the locking mechanism for their vehicle’s seatbelt. To learn how the seatbelts in your vehicle lock for the purposes of installing a car seat, look up “Child Restraint” in the index of your vehicle’s owners manual. The most common locking mechanism is the “switchable retractor” which requires you to pull the shoulder belt portion of the seatbelt all the way to the end to engage the locking mechanism. Once your seatbelt has been switched to locking mode, you will usually hear a ratcheting sound as you feed the slack back into the retractor. Every click you hear is cinching the seatbelt tighter. If you have a vehicle older than 1996 you may need to use a locking clip, which you can learn about HERE.

4. Use the harness straps correctly. The 5-point harness of a carseat is not like the straps of a highchair or baby swing, which are designed to keep your child from falling out. A carseat’s harness straps are designed to restrain a child’s small body under severe crash forces. I cannot stress enough the importance of understanding the purpose and mechanics of the harness straps. Clearly, I could write a whole post about this, but for now here are the important guidelines:

  • When the buckle is secured and the chest clip is fastened at armpit level, the straps should be snug. You should not be able to pinch any harness webbing at the collar bone.
  • Harness straps should lie flat and not be twisted; they lose strength and efficacy when twisted.
  • When rear-facing, harness straps should come from the slots or position that are at or slightly below the child’s shoulders.
  • When forward facing, harness straps should come from the slots or position at or slightly above their shoulders.

5. Don’t be in such a hurry to jump off the carseat train. The booster bus is not any easier after the first 2 rides and the novelty has worn off.  Younger kids start squirming around, forget to thread the seatbelt under the armrests and through the top belt guide, etc… In my experience, it is much easier to implement best practices with children in a 5-point harness than it is to do so with a booster. And proper usage is really what makes a child restraint so safe. When it comes to school-age kids (6+), there are debates on the safety benefits of a 5-point harness vs. a booster, but for younger kids the recommendations are clear. The American Academy of Pediatrics has a very reasonable recommendation: use a forward-facing carseat with a 5-point harness for as long as possible, up to the highest weight or height limit allowed by the carseat manufacturer.

With all that out of the way, now we can laugh together about how insanely complicated using carseats can be. I hear you!!! The Child Passenger Safety Technician Certification Course I attended alongside a dozen students was taught in a hotel conference room for 8 hours every day for a week! We read, discussed, watched powerpoint presentations, and practiced on trainers’ cars out in the hot parking lot. After we took written and practical tests on Friday, we were thrust into the community on Saturday to check carseats. I thought after that week I would know everything. But 11 years and 5 kids later, I’m still learning!

Adjusting a Carseat’s Recline Angle Using Pool Noodles or Rolled Towels

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How to Fix Your Rear-Facing Recline Angle Using Noodles or Rolled Towels

2014-chrysler-town-and-country-rear-interior-view-motor-trendPerhaps you don’t have a vehicle like the one on the left, but vehicle seats like those send shivers up most child passenger safety technicians’ spines. When we see a vehicle seat cushion with a slope that deep, we know we’ll have to even it out when installing a rear-facing carseat.

Rear-facing carseats require adjustment to a particular recline angle – that angle can vary from one carseat to another and is specified by each manufacturer. Most (but not all) infant carseats have a base that has a built-in recline feature so you can adjust the angle in order to achieve the correct recline on any vehicle seat. However, if your carseat doesn’t have a built-in recline feature, or if it isn’t enough to get the seat reclined appropriately – you can usually use a cut foam pool noodle or rolled towel.

graco-snugride-recline-feature-on-base
Convertible carseats all have some way to adjust the angle when the seat is installed rear-facing. Most convertibles on the market today can be installed properly rear-facing without needing anything extra. However, if the recline feature isn’t enough to achieve the necessary angle specified by the manufacturer, you can usually use a cut foam pool noodle or rolled towel to fill the gap and support the carseat at that recline angle. The seat below is the perfect example of a situation where you might need to use a pool noodle or rolled towel.

Tribute reclined line level to ground

Which is better—noodle or towel?

Diono Approves Convertible & Booster Installations with Ford’s Inflatable Seat Belt Technology

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Effective immediately all current models of Diono convertible seats (R100, R120, RadianRXT, Olympia, Pacifica & Rainier) and Diono boosters (Monterey, Cambria, & Solana) can now be used in Ford vehicles that have inflatable seatbelts! This allowance is retroactive to previous Diono and Sunshine Kids Radian and Monterey models.

Currently, inflatable seatbelts are an optional feature in the Ford Explorer, Edge, Flex, Fusion and F-150 as well as in Lincoln’s MKT, MKX and MKZ models. Read more about our experience with inflatable seatbelts in our Ford Explorer Review. This new allowance from Diono does NOT include the inflatable seatbelts found in some Mercedes-Benz vehicles.

Photo Credit: Diono

If you own a Ford or Lincoln vehicle with inflatable seatbelts, or if you are a CPS Technician working in a Ford/Lincoln vehicle that has this technology, please make sure you understand how to lock this particular type of seatbelt before attempting installation of ANY harnessed carseat.

ford-inflatable-seatbelt-upper-elr-retractorThe Ford inflatable seatbelt system uses 2 retractors which is very unusual. One retractor at the top of the shoulder belt, where you normally expect to find a retractor (pic right) and a second retractor (pic below) is near the floor at the end of the lap belt portion of the lap/shoulder belt. When installing ANY approved harnessed seat with these seatbelts you must switch the retractor on the lap belt portion of the seatbelt to locked (ALR) mode. The retractor at the top for the shoulder belt is not “switchable” – it is ELR only, meaning that section of the seatbelt will only lock during a crash or under emergency conditions. ELR retractors don’t do you any good when it comes to a harnessed carseat installation (boosters are a different story) so you MUST lock the lap belt portion of the seatbelt by “switching” the bottom retractor to locked mode. Switching a switchable retractor to locked mode is achieved by pulling the webbing of the seatbelt all the way to the end. When the webbing starts to retracts, you will hear a ratcheting sound and you will notice that the belt webbing goes in but won’t come out in this locked mode. Read the vehicle’s owners manual for clarification and more specific details.

ford-inflatable-seatbelt-switchable-retractor-graphic

If using an inflatable seatbelt to secure a child in a Diono Booster seat, you don’t have to worry about any of this. Just route the seatbelt properly and buckle.

Additional information regarding Diono seats and Ford’s inflatable seat belts can be found on the Diono website:  https://us.diono.com/update-on-ford-inflatable-seat-belt-use-with-diono-products

Proper Transport of the Non-Critical Pediatric Patient in an Ambulance (aka how to properly install a carseat on a stretcher/cot)

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On this warm, sunny, spring day – parents were obviously busy doing something other than coming to our check event. That left us techs with a little free time. At one point, some of the fabulous volunteers from the local ambulance corp showed up and the conversation quickly turned to transporting babies and young children in ambulances. I think I shocked a few of the local techs when I admitted that I had never actually installed a carseat on an ambulance cot (What? Something involving carseats that Kecia has never done??? Alert the presses! Lol.) Yes, I understand how it’s supposed to be done. I’ve read the research papers and I’ve seen several presentations on the subject at various CPS conferences over the years but I had never actually done it myself. Well, wouldn’t you know it – a short time later, an ambulance pulls up. Yes, boys and girls – it’s play time! 😀

It was actually a fairly simple install on this nice, new Stryker cot with this particular convertible (original model Cosco Scenera).  For the record, the only type of conventional carseat that should ever be installed on an ambulance stretcher/cot is a convertible. You need to be able to secure the carseat on the cot using two different beltpaths and this is only possible if the carseat has separate beltpaths for the rear-facing and forward-facing positions. Obviously, this setup is only going to work if the child actually fits in the convertible (and that will vary depending on the child and the specific convertible model being used) and if the child can tolerate being transported in the semi-upright position.

First we reclined the carseat into the position meant for a rear-facing installation. Then they showed me how to raise the head of the cot until we had it flush against the back of the convertible. Next we routed the straps nearest the rear-facing beltpath through that beltpath and routed the straps nearest the forward-facing beltpath through that beltpath. They helped me tighten everything up and Voila! Then we strapped in our “non-critical pediatric patient” for good measure (and for the photo op)! Finally, the guys showed me how to load this particular stretcher into the ambulance and secure it. I have to say, I was really impressed with this particular Stryker Powered Ambulance Cot. The hydraulic system was sweeet!

     

On this particular day, this exercise was all about learning something new in a relaxed and friendly environment. However, in reality, pediatric transport in an ambulance can range from “as safe as possible under difficult circumstances” to “downright scary for no good reason”. Why does it vary so much? Because currently there are no federal guidelines for  pediatric transport in an ambulance. Therefore,  EMS services are free to transport patients in any way they deem appropriate. Personally, I wouldn’t allow my kids to be transported to the hospital in an ambulance unless they really needed to be attended to by a medic on the way there. Unconscious? Not breathing? Massive head trauma? Get him into the ambulance fast and I’m not going to care or worry about how he’s restrained. Broken foot? Get in the car and I’m driving you to the hospital myself.

For more information on the subject see “Crash Protection for Children in Ambulances”: http://www.carseat.org/Resources/Bull_Ambulance.pdf