9 Dangerous Car Seat Mistakes Parents Make & How to Fix Them

Judy Dutton | Oct 22, 2014 Baby

child in car seatThe infant in this car seat is not properly buckled in his seat; the retainer around his chest is too low.New moms and dads are willing to bend over backward to keep their newborn safe ... yet a new study has found that the vast majority of parents are making a potentially fatal mistake before they even leave the hospital. How? With their infant car seat.

Researchers at the Oregon Health and Science University Hospital observed 267 families leaving the hospital with their newborns and found that 93 percent of parents make a critical mistake installing or positioning their infant in car seats. Only 7 percent got it right!

Considering car accidents are the leading cause of death among kids in the US, with recent statistics showing 650 children aged 12 and under dying and 148,000 injured per year, this is serious. For infants in particular, a car seat reduces the risk of mortality by 71 percent ... that is, if it's used according to manufacturers' instructions.

In an effort to help you embark on parenthood with the proper precautionary measures in place, here are the 9 most common mistakes parents are making when installing their infant car seat, and the solutions that will keep your little ones safe.

Easy fixes for common car seat mistakes

Did you do #3 with your car seat?


Images via NHTSA

  • The Car Seat Is Installed Too Loosely


    Percent of parents who make this mistake: 43 percent

    The fix: Grab the seat near where it's anchored to the car and tug. "The seat should move less than an inch side to side, front to back," says Benjamin Hoffman, MD, lead author of the study and medical director of the Tom Sargent Children’s Safety Center at OHSU Doernbecher Children’s Hospital. 

  • The Car Seat Is at the Wrong Angle


    Percent of parents who make this mistake: 34 percent

    The fix: "All rear-facing car seats are designed to recline at a certain angle specified by the manufacturer between 30 and 45 degrees," says Dr. Hoffman. "Some seats have a bubble level, others a sticker with a line that must be parallel to the ground." The problem? The actual seat your infant car seat is on may also incline, altering that angle. The solution? Use a tightly rolled towel or Styrofoam pool noodle to get your car seat positioned just right.

  • The Safety Belt Isn't Locked


    Percent of parents who make this mistake: 23 percent

    The fix: Pull the seat belt all the way out of its retractor. This will cause it to lock once it's retracted, keeping your car seat in place.

  • There's No Space Between the Car Seat and the Front Seat


    Percent of parents who make this mistake: 17 percent

    The fix: "A number of manufacturers say that your car seat should not contact the seat in front," says Dr. Hoffman. So move the front seat forward so there's about an inch and a half of space, about the width of your hand.

  • The Harness Is Too Loose


    Percent of parents who make this mistake: 69 percent

    The fix: Make sure the harness (the straps holding your infant in the seat) fits snugly. "Around the shoulder area, you shouldn't be able to pinch anything between your fingers," says Dr. Hoffman.

  • The Retainer Clip Is Too Low


    Percent of parents who make this mistake: 34 percent

    The fix: This tiny plastic clip at the chest keeps the harness straps from sliding off your baby's shoulders. So make sure the retainer is high enough -- ideally at the level of your baby's armpits.

  • You've Added Dangerous Components


    Percent of parents who make this mistake: 20 percent

    The fix: Don't buy any add-ons that weren't tested and approved by the manufacturer, such as fabric inserts, mirrors, or toys attached to the vehicle or seat.

  • The Harness Is Too High


    Percent of parents who make this mistake: 18 percent

    The fix: The harness straps should thread through holes in the seat at or below the infant's shoulders to keep him from shifting upwards.

  • You Don't Know How to Adjust the Harness


    Percent of parents who make this mistake: 15 percent

    The fix: If the harness needs tightening, loosening, or other adjustments, many parents don't know how to do it. But luckily, every seat has a sticker with a manufacturer's phone number you can call for help; also keep the owner's manual in the car or get advice at SeatCheck.org.

    More from The Stir: 9 Lifesaving Car Seat Rules You're Probably Ignoring

car seat safety