There is so much more to car seat safety that goes beyond reading the manual. (You did read the manual, right?) I've shared the details on buying and installing in one post and a basic guide to use in another. But there's still more you need to know and in honor of Child Passenger Safety Week, I'm sharing more safety details.
Think your BPA-free water bottle is safe? What about the position of the handle of your infant seat? There are other things to consider to ensure your child is as safe as possible in the car. Here are 7 car seat safety rules you still may have missed.
1. Clear your car of projectiles.
Those BPA-free metal water bottles are totally awesome and earth-friendly, but unless you can clip them to something, they are a dangerous projectile. In fact, any loose item in your car is potentially deadly because when you're driving 75 miles per hour and have to slam on your brakes, those items are also going 75 miles per hour. This applies to your diaper bag, purse, and scalding hot coffee. Utilitze the trunk, glove box, and put your cell phone in your pocket. Buy cargo nets if you don't have a trunk so nothing can fly forward from the back. If you have sun shades on your windows, they can only be the cling type, not the retractable ones with the big bar. This also means your pet needs to be secured, for your safety as well as theirs.
A good rule of thumb is if you couldn't throw it at someone's head without hurting them, it needs to be secured. This also applies to any toys you give your child to play with in the car as well, and if your big kid isn't in their booster and it's not attached with the LATCH system, strap that in as well.
2. Know and use the top tethers.
You know that strap on the back of your car seat, at the top, that usually has it's own little pouch on the cover? That's your top tether. Even if you don't have the LATCH system, this strap needs to be used on all forward-facing seats, and in certain seats (like Britax and Sunshine Kids) it can be used for rear-facing as well. If you live in Canada, it is illegal to not tether forward-facing seats!
Cars that don't have an anchor spot can easily be retrofitted with one at a dealership, for free or for the cost of the part (less than $10). I did this with my 1999 Camry pretty easily.
3. Find out if you're allowed to have the handle on your infant seat up while driving.
Infant seats all have different rules as to whether or not the handle is allowed to be in the "carry" position while the seat is in the car. Know your particular car seat's rules. Seats that aren't designed for it say to put it down because a child can smash into it or be hit with broken pieces in an accident.
4. Check if your seat is touching the back of the seat in front of it.
If your seat is against the back of the seat ahead of it, this is called "bracing." In most situations, this is okay, but you need to check your car seat's manual, and your car's manual as well. Evenflo seats, for example, generally forbid this. Usually, though, this is allowed as long as the car seat is completely securely installed before you push the seat back against it.
5. Know how to safely and properly clean your car seat.
Be very careful to follow the manufacturer's instructions when you wash the car seat. You cannot soak the straps, you cannot use harsh cleaners, and for some car seats, you can't put the cover in the dryer either. Yet another case of "READ YOUR MANUAL." If you don't follow the instructions, you can quite literally ruin your seat.
6. Don't let your straps stay twisted, ever.
Your straps need to lie flat with no twists, 100 percent of the time. Check to make sure the straps are flat and straight every single time you put your baby in the car seat. Letting them twist can create weak points or even damage the straps permanently if you let them stay twisted. They create a point where they can break or distribute force unevenly and can injure your child. It takes two seconds -- just fix it.
Certain seats with thicker straps like Britax and Radians don't twist as easily, and other harness designs can sometimes make it difficult for the straps not to twist. This is something to consider when buying a seat, as having to constantly untwist straps can be really annoying.
7. Know when your seat expires.
All seats have an expiration date, and they vary by manufacturer. Your seat should have printed on a label or even in the plastic, a "DOM" which means "Date of Manufacture." This tells you when the seat was made. A lot of older guides say that 10 years is the maximum lifespan for a seat but that number is grossly overinflated. The majority of seats are only good for 6 years from the DOM. Some seats, like Britax seats, are good for 7 years, or in the case of the Frontier/Frontier 85, 9 years, but when in doubt, stick to 6. A lot of newer technology is coming out, though, that is allowing even the cheapest seats to have 7 year limits, but most people don't have these seats yet.
I know there's some argument out there that expiration dates are a ploy by car seat companies to get you to buy new seats. I'm sure people really believe that to be true. But the fact of the matter is that with the rapid changes of heat and cold, especially if you don't have a garage, the plastic eventually can warp and become brittle, the structure of the seat can become unsound, and even your harnesses with repeat use can develop weak points. Britax's new line of convertibles all have black plastic, which is their special new type that they've found is a lot more resistant to deterioration over time, but lots of cheaper seats and older seats don't have the same quality plastic.
Not to mention, technology continues to improve, and seats that were made 10 years ago often have been proven to be incredibly unsafe compared to newer seats (some have been recalled!), and general wear and tear can make buckles malfunction or stick.
Invest in good-quality, long-lasting seats to start, or be willing to replace cheaper or older seats as needed. No bargain on an older seat, or reusing a seat from your first child "because it still works just fine" is worth it. If you don't believe me, check out this video of a crash test using a 10-year-old car seat:
Of course, as always, READ YOUR MANUAL, call your car seat manufacturer and go to a Safe Kids certified technician for a check-up -- even if you think you're doing everything perfect. Call 1-866-SEAT-CHECK or visit the website, SafeKids.org. Also check out the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration or follow childseatsafety on Twitter for more details.
Do you abide by these 7 safety rules?