Kids Archive

Carpooling Safely: Recommended Portable Car Seats

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Best Portable Carseats for Older Kids in Car Pools and for Travel

With school back in session and fall sports and activities in full gear, it can be challenging to figure out how to get kids where they need to go…safely! Carpooling has sure changed from when we were kids! Fitting additional children safely into vehicles can be tricky. Thankfully child restraint manufacturers have noticed a need for products to make this feat a bit easier, whether it be in personal vehicles or while traveling. While many of these suggestions would apply to rental vehicles and rideshares, the focus of this article is really on day-to-day driving.

I have four kids, so carpooling becomes even more of a challenge. Thankfully I own a lot of seats and don’t hesitate to swap them in, out, and around, but if you’re going to be using someone else’s seat to transport a child, it’s really important that you know how to use it. It may benefit you to purchase an additional seat vs. trying to figure out how to use each of your children’s friend’s seats. And on that note, if you’re adding additional harnessed seats to your vehicle, you’ll need to make sure you have room for those seats to be safely installed and have tether anchors for all forward-facing car seats.

We typically keep two products with us at all times, just in case we need to pick up an extra child or two: the Ride Safer Travel Vest and one of the other great travel boosters like the BubbleBum, Graco RightGuide, or TurboGo. This combination allows us to accommodate a very wide range of children from preschool through elementary school! And the beauty of these products is that they are very narrow and can fit pretty much anywhere a seatbelt fits.

Most people realize that you need enough width for a child restraint to fit in order to add another child passenger, but there are other important considerations. All passengers need head restraints (either from the vehicle seat or from a car seat) up to at least the top of their ears. If you have a seating position without a head restraint, or one that’s quite low, you’ll need to be mindful of what type of restraint is used there. (And just a reminder…an adult shouldn’t be sitting there either!) That’s one great benefit of the Ride Safer Travel Vest. It allows many kids to sit in a seating position without a head restraint because it doesn’t lift them up off of the vehicle seat!

Here’s an example of two different boosters…on the left is the Graco TurboBooster TakeAlong. You can see his ears are well above the seatback (not a problem here because this seat has a head restraint but the middle seat in this vehicle doesn’t!) The RightGuide, shown to the right, brings him down so his ears are just right at the top of the setback. He’d still be too tall to use this seating position if there weren’t a headrest, this gives you an idea of how the height of the booster seat can make a big difference in the height of the kid.

Shoulder belt positioning is another important consideration if you’re using backless boosters. It’s not uncommon for the shoulder belt to hover in front of the child without some adjustment. Your vehicle may have an adjustable shoulder belt anchor or a small bungee strap with a clip on the end. If this adjustment is not built into your vehicle (and sometimes even if it is), you’ll need a booster seat that offers some type of shoulder belt adjustment. Many, but not all, backless booster seats come with an adjustable strap with a clip at the end for assisting with proper shoulder belt fit.

Many people wonder what that little bungee strap with the plastic clip at the end is for…well here you go!

So what about when your kids ride with others?

If your child rides in a traditional rear or forward-facing 5-point harness, you’ll need to figure out if the other vehicle has an extra seat appropriate for your child or if you, or the driver, must install your child’s seat. Don’t rush this step. Be sure you take the time to understand how this vehicle may be different than what you’re used to. Don’t assume that the driver of the vehicle knows how to do it either! If, and only if, your child is mature enough to ride in a booster seat, this may be a good time to do so. Using a booster seat eliminates a number of mistakes that could be made with installation in a different vehicle. The Ride Safer Travel Vest may also be a great alternative for the times when a forward-facing child who typically rides in a harness needs to travel in another vehicle.

Since it is most common with children in booster seats, let’s talk more about booster seats for carpooling. Make sure your booster seats will fit. Installing any type of seat three-across can be challenging but boosters need room for buckling as well. Make sure your kids understand how to use their booster seat in a variety of situations. Teach them to check their shoulder belt fit and to always use a seating position with head support. Test your kids in other vehicles to see if they can set up their booster seat correctly, including assessing proper shoulder belt fit and finding a seating position with a head restraint. It’s likely that their travel booster seat may be different from their everyday booster seat so be sure your child understands the differences and how to use them both.

As I mentioned, the market is changing and we have so many products available to help with the challenges of carpooling. (Please remember that not all restraints are appropriate for every child or every vehicle. Always read the manufacturer’s instructions to ensure you’re using the restraint correctly.)

Don’t sacrifice safety for convenience. Protect your precious cargo EVERY ride.

 

Carpool-Friendly Child Restraints:

BubbleBum: This inflatable booster seat is narrow and very compact when deflated and rolled up making it a great solution for fitting in a middle seat or tossing in a backpack. Even fully inflated, it takes up very little room.

Ride Safer Travel Vest: This product is a cross between a 5 point harness and a traditional booster seat. Rather than lifting the child up to fit the vehicle seat belt, the vest lowers the seat belt down to fit the child. The surface area and energy-absorbing material help absorb crash forces and spread them over a wider area of the body like a 5 point harness does. The vest can also be used with the tether to stabilize the upper body of a child if he/she isn’t quite ready to sit completely still.

 

Graco RightGuide: One of the newest portable boosters on the market, the RightGuide is easy to use and plenty compact for a backpack. Just be sure the shoulder belt is making contact with the shoulder. If not, the included shoulder belt adjustment clip is stored neatly inside the bottom of the RightGuide.

 

Graco TurboGo: The wide-open belt guides make this booster very easy to use. It also has a unique fold that reduces the size of the booster by about 30% for easy transport while still giving you a nice full-size booster when you need it.

Graco TurboBooster TakeAlong (Highback and Backless Boosters): The Backless portion of this booster essentially folds in half. It’s much more compact than many boosters but it’s very easy to use and boosts kids up enough to often not need shoulder belt adjustment.

MiFold: While the MiFold is fabulous in theory, we haven’t found it to offer a consistent belt fit from vehicle to vehicle and child to child. Be sure to check the fit on the child in the vehicle where it will be used before sending this seat with your child.

HiFold: This folding highback booster is new to the market and appears to give a pretty good fit. It’s certainly not as compact as the backless boosters above, or the RSTV, but it may prove to be a nice addition to the market. (Not yet evaluated by CarseatBlog)

WhizRider: Similar to the Ride Safer Travel Vest, this very compact travel solution also lowers the seat belt down to fit the child. It does not have energy-absorbing material or an optional tether. (Not yet evaluated by CarseatBlog)

 

Are You Making These Carseat Mistakes?

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5 Common Carseat Mistakes Parents and Caregivers Make

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.

1. 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

1a. 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.

2. 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

3. 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

4. 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.

5. 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 18 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 iPad 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 some 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 Evenflo says that your kids must be 2 before they can be turned forward-facing in their convertible seats. I’m not pulling your leg—it’s right there in the 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.

Car Safety Mistake Turned Parenting Hack

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I don’t generally consider myself to be a very creative parent. Mostly, my parenting is trial and (a lot of) error and motivated by a desire to just stay afloat and stave off a child-led coup. So far, so good on the last part, but it has been touch and go on many occasions. In one of these trial and error moments, we learned an important car seat related lesson and it came with a bonus we didn’t expect.

The way the lesson came about is a cautionary tale in itself, if we’re being totally honest. My oldest son, who was newly 6 at the time, refused to get out of the car one day. We had unbuckled him from his seat, but he just would not budge. He was mostly just joking around and we knew it, so we called his bluff and closed the van doors and went inside the house. I do not recommend this, this isn’t my parenting hack and it ended up being really scary for him and fully regrettable for us. I did not realize at the time that my son had no idea how to open the car doors, even though they weren’t locked. We waited just a few minutes for him to come in and then went out to retrieve him, thinking he was just being funny. But instead he was (understandably) pretty upset.

That night after he’d had some time to calm down and we’d had some time to reflect, we went to the car together and we showed him how to open each door, in each car, from the inside, just in case he ever needed to. We showed him where the locks were (both manual and automatic), how to open the trunk and how to use the horn for attention if he ever found himself stuck in the car again. We honestly didn’t realize until that moment how little he knew about the car because we had been doing all those parts for him. Since we had to open a door to free him from his harnessed seat, he’d never had the opportunity even to try to get out of the car on his own.

Once we realized how dangerous this lack of knowledge could be, how easily he could get trapped inside a car, we brought his 4 year old brother out and did the same, with more emphasis on how to get attention from others because we didn’t expect him to retain as many of the skills of operating the car doors/locks as his brother.

We knew that kids get trapped in cars all the time and that with summer approaching, the consequences of that can be tragic. But we were so sure that it couldn’t happen to us (as car seat aficionados) that we forgot to actually do the parenting things that would ensure that it wouldn’t. As we continued to think about the situation over the course of a few days, we realized that all of the things we taught him were useless if our son (and his brothers) were still trapped in their seats.

We spent the next few weeks teaching our oldest child how to get out of a 5-point harness. Fortunately he could reach the tab that loosened the harness in his seat, because he was able to get better leverage on the crotch buckle with a little bit of slack in the harness. But even still, about 50 percent of the time, he couldn’t get the buckle undone. So we showed him how to loosen his harness fully, unclip his chest clip and climb out. It wasn’t easy, and shoes had to be removed, but with enough slack he could do it. Once he mastered this, we felt like he had finally reached a point where if something happened, he could get out and get help. We didn’t teach his younger brother how to escape because we knew that he didn’t have the maturity to handle that particular skill and I didn’t want him climbing into the front seat while I was driving on the freeway.

After all that effort, what I didn’t expect was the unintended bonus of all this practice. See, not only can my oldest son get himself out of his car seat and get out of the car, now he can get HIS BROTHER OUT. Like every morning at school drop off. Instead of me tromping around to both sides of the car to remove all the kids, now my oldest son gets himself out (he’s finally transitioned to a booster safely) and then releases one brother and I get the other. I don’t think he’s happier, but I am, and so it probably trickles down somehow.

There are a few morals here, but I hope you’ll take away from this that it’s important to show your kids how to get out of the car, even if you think they know and how to get attention from others if they’re trapped. And if you do that, you may find that in the end it doesn’t just make your kids safer, but it may make your life easier, too.

Turning My Kids into Safety Advocates

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I’m a mother of four (8, 8, 4, and 2) and a CPST-Instructor. My twins were 4 years old when I became a technician, although as an engineer, I’d been an advocate since before they were born. One day I was watching crash test videos as part of a training. One of my boys saw and asked what I was watching. For a moment I thought maybe this was too much for him to understand but I decided to show both of them and use it as an opportunity to explain why I’m so passionate about what I do. That was the start of something!

I’m proud to say my twin boys have become advocates for themselves and those around them. My favorite example is when my youngest went through his “arched back car seat refusal” phase, like all toddlers do, at about 13 months. One morning, after a particularly long struggle to get him into his car seat, I jokingly said, “well, I guess it’s time to turn him around!” One of my twins said, “NO MOM! That’s not safe!” Of course I told him I was only kidding and his response was, “But Mom, that’s not even funny to joke about!” My heart burst! He was watching out for his little brother and knew what was safest for him. What more can a mother ask for! From telling the parents of their younger sister’s friend’s that “she should still be rear facing” to telling a stranger at the ice cream shop that placing her infant’s car seat on top of the table isn’t safe, they’re making me proud (albeit slightly embarrassed at times, but I’ll take that knowing they’re simply watching out for someone’s safety).

Let me first explain that I don’t have the kind of kids that just comply with rules “because I said so.” They’re not the sit still and stay quiet kind of kids. But when it comes to rules, especially regarding safety, I believe in teaching kids WHY. Sure, at the end of the day they have to follow them because I say they do, but the chances that they will choose to comply without putting up a fight go up dramatically if they understand why the rules are in place. I show them the reason a booster seat is so important for them. We talk about the possible injuries from an incorrectly fitted seat belt. They hear me ask them questions like, “Do you prefer to keep your body in one piece?”, or “Would you like the seat belt to slice through your belly?” 

As we enter this age, where here in Colorado they are no longer required by law to use a booster seat as of their 8th birthday, it’s going to be very interesting to see what happens among their peer group. We’ve discussed how some bigger kids might choose unkind words regarding their booster use and how to respond to that. They’re now starting to notice and question when they see their friends riding without a booster seat. They are genuinely concerned for their safety and want their friends to be safe! So far I couldn’t be more proud of my boys for knowing, practicing, and even teaching best practice.

Data shows we’re doing a great job protecting our young children. Restraint usage is up, and injuries rates are down among most young children. Where we still have our work cutout for us is in the older children…8-12 years of age. For these children most state laws no longer require a booster seat and most parents believe that following the law protects their child so they must be safe without one if it’s legal. 

Just a quick refresher, children should be in a booster seat until the vehicle seat belt properly fits. It’s not about age, height or weight. It’s simply “when the seat belt fits correctly.” Here’s how we check.

  1. Does the child sit all the way back on the vehicle seat?
  2. Are the knees bent comfortably at the edge of the seat?
  3. Does the seatbelt cross the shoulder properly? (It should be centered over the collar bone)
  4. Is the lap portion of the belt low – touching the thighs?
  5. Can the child stay seated this way for the entire ride, every ride? (Awake and asleep)

Bonus Step – feet planted firmly on the floor

The results of this test will vary from one vehicle to another, from one seating position to another, etc. So a child might need a booster seat in one vehicle and not the other. 

I work at a local hospital doing pre-discharge appointments for families with new babies. Obviously I address the safety of all passengers in the vehicle so the subject of boosters for big kids comes up. It’s not uncommon that I encounter families with children who either aren’t even legally old enough to ride without a booster or children who, regardless of their age, still need a booster seat based on their size. I’m often met by parents who are hesitant to place their child back in a booster seat as though it’s some form of punishment. However, I’ve yet to meet a parent who wants their child to receive any of the common seat belt injuries for an improperly fitted seat belt. So how do we translate this to proper use among this age group?

I believe compliance will come in teaching people, parents and children alike, the “why”. Children (and their parents) need to understand that this isn’t some form of punishment or rule enforcement. It’s about preventing children from suffering horrible internal injuries from an improperly fitting seat belt. Together we can change the “stigma” around booster seat usage. Let’s make using booster seats cool. Let’s stop talking about booster seat use as an inconvenience and just make it the norm. There are so many wonderful options now for portable boosters like the BubbleBum, the Safety 1st Incognito, the Graco TurboBooster TakeAlong and Turbo GO just to name a few. Keeping an extra booster in your car for your kid’s friends is easy, and affordable. 

I’ve seen this “pact” asking parents to wait to give their kids cell phones until 8th grade. Let’s make a pact to keep our big kids safe in the car…by requiring boosters for all children who need them regardless of age, height or weight…by not taking short cuts because “we’re only driving a short distance” or “it’s just this one ride.” Together we can do this. We can make our children advocates for themselves and their peers.