Are you using your car seat properly? 1 in 5 kids killed in car accidents don't have proper restraints

In a study of fatal U.S. traffic accidents, a large portion of kids who died were killed by improper use of car seats or by not being buckled up at all.

Photo: National Highway Traffic Safety Administration

By now you’ve probably heard that most of us don’t install our kids’ car seats properly. Now, new research offers even more proof that parents could be doing a lot more to keep our kids safe in our vehicles. A study of fatal traffic accidents in the U.S. found that, when kids are killed in a crash, there’s a one in five chance they weren’t properly restrained in their car seat or with a seat belt (or weren’t buckled up at all).

The study, which was conducted by researchers at Harvard and UT Southwestern Medical Center, and published in the Journal of Pediatrics, looked at motor vehicle fatalities involving children under age 15. It found that 20 percent of kids who died in car crashes were improperly restrained or unrestrained, meaning their car seat was installed incorrectly, they weren’t restrained properly in the car seat or booster seat, no car seat or seat belt was used or the seat belt was used incorrectly.

In Canada, too, the Canadian Paediatric Society reports that many child traffic deaths and injuries can be directly attributed to caregivers misusing (or not using) restraints for kids. The U.S. analysis suggests that if restraints were used properly in just 10 percent more vehicles, there would be more than 230 children’s lives saved in the country each year—about 40 percent of those that are usually lost.

Other studies have shown that using a car seat or booster seat properly can reduce a child’s risk of death by up to 71 percent and reduce the risk of serious injury by up to 67 percent.

So why are some of us still getting it wrong? Installing a car seat properly isn’t easy. You need to get it snug enough that it can’t move more than an inch, recline the seat to just the right angle, and make sure your child’s height and weight (which are constantly changing) haven’t exceeded the seat’s capacity. (Brush up on the most common car seat mistakes to ensure you’ve got everything right.)

As a parent, you have enough things to worry about, so if you’re not sure if yours is installed correctly, it’s worth it to see a certified car seat technician, who will help you get it right and teach you how to install it properly yourself.

And while some parents are eager to transition kids from a rear-facing car seat to a forward-facing one, it’s safest to keep them facing the back of the vehicle for as long as possible—until they’re about to outgrow the seat manufacturer’s weight limit. Moving kids out of a car seat or booster seat too soon is also a bad idea. In the U.S. study, 13 percent of children who died had been inappropriately seated in the front of the vehicle. Because front air bags can cause serious harm or kill a child in the front seat of a vehicle, the Canadian Paediatric Society says kids should sit in the back until age 13.

Once kids get older, you might have to fight with them to wear a seat belt, but it’s a fight worth having, because that seat belt could save their life. Take steps to nip that problem in the bud before it starts by always wearing your own seat belt properly and talking to your kids about the importance of car safety.

Read more:
Car seat cheat sheet
Toddler parents: Keep that car seat rear-facing

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