You're Probably Using Your Child's Car Seat Dead Wrong


NOT how she rides, obviously.
When people are told they should go see a Car Seat Safety Technician (CPST) or take their seat to a check-up, most people roll their eyes, figuring they can do it just fine themselves. However, 84 percent of kids have at least one critical misuse of their seat -- that means MOST OF US use our seats wrong, and dangerously so.

There are also way too many people who just don't use seats at all, or use them so wrong that their child is in more danger than you could even imagine. On the highway that goes through my town, I saw a little girl no older than 4 in the backseat lean forward and stick her head out the driver's window (two-door car) to look around. When the car started moving, she got on her knees on the back seat so she could look out the back window. Things like that really make you understand why car accidents are still the leading cause of death for children ages 3 to 14, killing over 30,000 kids a year. What can we do to fix this?!

When the scary video of the babysitter who put a stroller in the back of the pick-up went out, the rare defense of the woman was met with disbelief and disgust from most everyone. However, when a toddler is merely held in-arms because Dad wanted to feed her French fries and actually dies in an accident, more people jump to defense of the parents. They were not charged, but a mom who poorly installed an infant seat rear-facing in the front seat WAS charged when her baby died? A mom who breastfeeds while driving isn't okay, but when a child who wasn't in a booster dies, it's not the parents' fault? And don't get me started on people jumping into cabs without safety seats ...

You see the inconsistency here, right? I mean, when a dad can hold a baby on his lap up front and the law says he's innocent, but a mom who USED a car seat (albeit wrongly) in the front is guilty, what in the world are people supposed to think?

While the manual always has instructions, not everyone reads it. Most people don't or they just flip to the install they're doing, never bothering to read anything else. Like how to use the seat or warnings. Everywhere you look, from TV shows to commercials (even car seat commercials!), magazines, and cardboard cut-outs in stores next to the car seats, seats are used wrong. It's actually RARE that I see a correctly-used seat in print or on TV.

In addition, most hospitals don't even bother checking to make sure baby is safe before letting parents take them home. The nurses LAUGHED at me and said, "You obviously know more than we do!" when I buckled my daughter into her seat and asked if they needed to check harness tightness ... and then after following me to my car, I asked if they needed to check the install, and the nurse said, "Nope, just needed to hear it click!" Because, you know, that's all that matters, right?

What CAN we do to fix this? Sweden has much less restrictive laws BUT much better use -- deaths are incredibly rare due to well-done and very available (and if I'm not mistaken, required) courses in car seat safety. For the US, I'm not sure what would work. You can't write an article about car seat safety without people deciding you're insulting them or it's overkill, which then in turn means they're likely not changing their habits to be safer. I wish I could volunteer at some hospitals to make sure all babies go home safely, with the parents knowing how and why. But what else? Mandatory car seat checks at hospitals? First-offenses for misuse in all states?

What do you think could help the US do way better when it comes to car seat safety?

baby gear, car seat safety, natural parenting, in the news, cars


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Brittany L. Ison

They wouldnt let us leave the hospital with our little girl until at least my husband ( was in a wheel chair from a C-sec) could install the seat correctly. They must have took it out and put it back 5 times before he got it right...but at least we were sure everything was safe.

Dontribi Dontribi

My guess would be read the manual.  They are pretty verbose on uses and how to install them.

Pua Smith

When I was in the hospital and heard "car seat check" I was thinking they were going to check the install of the seat. Nope, they just wanted to make sure the baby could sit in it for an hour without something happening. And they told me I wasn't allowed to use my Britax because it was unsafe for a newborn and I absolutely HAD to use a bucket seat. They wouldn't do the seat check without one, and we couldn't leave without the seat check. That was the moment I learned the hospital knew nothing about car seat safety.

bills... billsfan1104

What I would like to know, with car accidents being the number one death for children, is there ANY proof that the car seats installed improperly was the cause of these car accident deaths??

starr... starrsitter

I have a problem with the "well, there's a manual, but who reads *that*" attitude. It's not War and Peace. Read the damn thing. Can't read? Get someone to read it to you. I have no tolerance for people too damn lazy to understand things like this.

Also, Pua...they can't refuse to let you leave the hospital w/o the seat check. You just have to sign a waiver. You can decline the carseat check all together, in fact. They have no authority to hold you hostage in the hospital until you purchase another carseat. Make sure you know your rights, everybody.

Pua Smith

I had no idea starsitter! It was our first and she was premie, but healthy so they used scare tactics on us saying that she may not be able to tolerate being in the seat. Our second was also premie, but healthy, so we just brought the bucket we had with number 1 to avoid confrontation and switchd once we left the parking lot. They offered no waiver or anything else other than fear mongering.

nonmember avatar Liberty

When I was getting ready to install my daughters convertible carseat, I searched all over for a qualified car seat tech...heck, I couldn't even find a non qualified one. I got a list of places from my hospital and from a nearby baby store. Total I had about 10 numbers. Of those 10 at least 5 were disconnected and for the other 5 I left repeated messages and never got a return call. This was so frustrating since I wanted to make sure my baby girl was safe. I finally tracked down a tech at a local police dept (they only did car seat installation 2 days out of the month). I took my brand new Britax Marathon there for him to install thinking it would set my mind at ease, but it quickly became clear that it was a joke. He wasn't familiar with my seat, wouldn't look at he instructions and basically guessed on how to put it in. I ended up going home, reading the manual several times and re installing it myself. Qualified car seat techs need to actually be qualified. And they need to be easily available.

Amand... Amanda_Jeanne

The biggest thing I don't understand is obvious lack of common sense when some people buckle their children into car seats. Sure, it's great you have a car seat in the back of your car for your kiddo, but do you TRULY think that the CHEST clip being all the way down by the child's crotch, and the straps being horribly twisted, are going to save the child in an accident? He or she will go flying out of that seat! It's not like the seat itself has some magic sticky properties that will hold the kid in place regardless of whether or not he/she is strapped in correctly, which I think might be a huge misconception by those who use the seat and straps improperly. That's my biggest bone of contention with dreadfully wrong car seat usage.

starr... starrsitter

We questioned the benefit of putting our (very) late pre-term daughter in a situation for an hour just to see if something bad would happen when we lived less than 10 minutes away from the hospital. It's a total CYA for the hospital more than anything. We were initially pressured by a nurse who used the scare tactics, but the on-call ped agreed with us that it was unecessary and we just declined and signed off on it.

Betwe... BetweenCourses

This is a slippery slope---requiring seat checks and seat safety classes--what's next, mandatory CPR training, home inspections to be sure you have the dishsoap up out the way?  Safety is important and knowing how to use it correctly is absolutely important, but requiring training.....where do we stop?

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