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Car Seat Installation Tips and Common Mistakes

Car seats and boosters provide protection for infants and children in a crash. However, the leading cause of death for children ages 1 to 13 remains car crashes. As you buckle up your child this fall, remember to use the right car seat every time. Car seat installation seems relatively simple, but with a simple mistake, your child may be at risk. Follow these simple tips and remember to watch for common mistakes to stay safe this fall.

How to Find the Right Car Seat

Depending on the size of your child and your vehicle, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration details four car seat types. First, the best seat for your young child is the rear facing seat. With a harness, it cradles and moves with your child in a crash. This reduces the stress to the child’s fragile neck and spinal cord. Second, the forward facing car seat has a harness and tether that limits your child’s forward movement during a crash. Third, the booster seat positions the seat belt so that it fits properly over the stronger parts of your child’s body. Lastly, the seat belt should lie across the upper thighs. Make sure the belt is snug across the shoulder and chest to restrain your child safely in a crash. The belt should not on a child’s belly or cover a child’s face. The NHTSA has a Car Seat Finder tool that lets you compare seats and ease-of-use ratings to find the right car seat for your child.

Installing and Registering Your Car Seat

With car seat installation, read the instruction manual. Additionally, your vehicle owner manual should have a portion on car seat installation. You will need to use either the lower anchors or the seat belt to secure it in place. If you use a seat belt, pay close attention on how to lock your seat belt in the owner manual. Follow all of the instructions carefully. Your child’s safety is at risk

Next, place the car seat in the back seat of your vehicle. Make sure it is secure and tightly fastened in the vehicle.

If you have a forward facing seat and a tether strap, connect it to the tether anchor. If it is a rear-facing seat, make sure the car seat is installed at the correct angle. Most car seats have indicators or adjusters. Again, read the instruction manual.

And if you have any questions, many local fire and police stations offer free car seat inspections. Arlington Heights has an annual check on Mother’s Day weekend at the local police department.

Lastly, register your car seat and sign up for recall notices to receive safety updates

Mayo Clinic Recommendations

Finally, the Mayo Clinic recommends avoiding these 9 common mistakes. Knowing how to safely buckle up your child as he or she grows can be difficult.

  1. Getting a used car seat without doing your homework
  2. Placing the car seat in the wrong spot
  3. Incorrectly installing the car seat or buckling up your child
  4. Reclining your child at the incorrect angle
  5. Moving to a forward-facing car seat too soon
  6. Not removing your child’s heavy outerwear
  7. Moving to a booster seat too soon
  8. Incorrectly using a booster seat
  9. Transitioning to a safety belt too soon

Again, if you have questions about child passenger safety laws or need help with car seat installation, participate in a local car seat clinic or inspection event. You can also check with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration for help finding a car seat inspection station.

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Ronald F. Wittmeyer, Jr. practices plaintiffs' personal injury law at his office in Arlington Heights, Illinois.

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