A car seat check at OSF Children's Hospital of Illinois

Is your car seat installed correctly?

Up to 80 percent of car seats aren’t properly installed.

“Which is scary, because if you’re in a crash and your car seat isn’t installed correctly, it’s not going to function properly, and your child could be injured or worse,” said Stephanie Miles, a certified child passenger safety technician.

In her role in the advocacy department at OSF HealthCare Children’s Hospital of Illinois, Stephanie helps promote parent education, including car seat safety. Despite having their child’s best interest at heart, many parents make mistakes when putting their child in a car seat. Here are some common errors.

Most common mistakes

The car seat isn’t tight enough

mother strapping in an infant into a rear-facing car seat

Your car seat should move less than an inch along the belt path, side to side and front to back.

“If it’s too loose and you get in a crash, the car seat could become unattached and potentially be ejected from the vehicle,” Stephanie said.

Recline position isn’t correct

Having a child reclined too far back in their car seat could make it easier for them to slip out of the harness during a crash.

Conversely, the head and neck of a child reclined too far forward isn’t properly supported, which could restrict the airway. Consult your owner’s manual for detailed information and follow the manufacturer’s recommendations for the safest position.

Your child isn’t strapped in correctly

infant car seat strap

A poorly positioned hardness or chest clip could cause major problems in a crash.

The harness should be snug enough that you can’t pinch any fabric between your fingers at the baby’s shoulder.

“If you can pinch any fabric, you need to tighten them,” Stephanie said.

In rear-facing seats, the hardness straps should be at or below the shoulders. In front-facing seats, straps should be at or above the shoulders.

The chest clip should be positioned in line with the baby’s armpits, directly over the baby’s breastbone. Any lower, and the clip could cause damage to the baby’s internal organs in a crash.

Your child should be rear-facing

Father checks on his infant daughter's car seat

In 2019, Illinois state law changed to require all children under the age of 2 years old ride in a rear-facing car seat.

“We have always recommended rear-facing at least until the age of 2 because it better protects the brain, neck and spinal cord,” Stephanie said. “If you forward face too soon, injuries to the brain, neck, and spinal cord could result, which are life-changing, permanent injuries.”

Illinois law also requires that older kids use a child restraint system such as a booster seat up until the age of 8, but Stephanie recommends that children continue to use a booster seat until they are at least 4 foot 9 inches or 80 pounds.

The bottom line

Take your time when you’re putting your child in their car seat, and double check every time that it’s installed safely.

“When you’re traveling, your children are your most precious cargo, so it’s worth the extra time to make sure not only the car seat is installed properly, but your child is correctly seated in the car seat,” Stephanie said. “It can be challenging as a parent, especially when you’re rushing out the door, but take a few extra minutes and make sure your child is properly restrained.”

And don’t throw away the owner’s manual! Read your manufacturer’s recommendations carefully to be sure you are using the car seat correctly to best protect your child.

While these can be valuable resources, they can also be overwhelming. If you have any questions about whether you are following instructions correctly or whether your child’s seat is safely installed, you can call the OSF Children’s Hospital advocacy department and request a consultation.

“There’s a lot to know about car seats. If you’re confused we’re here to help,” Stephanie said.

Call 1 (877) 277-6543 to schedule a car seat check in a location near you.

About Author: Laura Nightengale

Laura Nightengale is a writing coordinator for OSF HealthCare. 

She has a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Kansas and worked as a reporter at a daily newspaper for five years before joining OSF HealthCare. 

When she’s not working, Laura loves to travel, read, and spend time with her family, including her sweet and ornery dog.

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Categories: Kids & Family