10 Ways Car Seats Can Be Dangerous for Your Kids

Judy Dutton | Jul 28, 2015 Baby

car seatParents have been drilled like crazy on car seat safety -- after all, knowing how to properly install the seat and buckle your baby in is what can keep him safe in case of a crash! Yet while you might assume that car seat safety issues end once you've turned off your ignition, that's surprisingly not the case.

In fact, one study found that every year, nearly 10,000 babies in the U.S. are injured in their car seats not due to a collision, but while the car seat was outside the car. So how exactly did these accidents happen? Read on to get the lowdown on car seat dangers beyond car crashes.

What parent hasn't done #1?

 

Image via Ilya Andriyanov/shutterstock

  • Letting Baby Sleep in the Car Seat

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    Don't you love how car rides put babies to sleep? That's fine and unavoidable, but here's where parents go wrong: They carefully transport the car seat into the house so that their baby can continue sleeping there -- because honestly now, why wake a sleeping baby to move him to the crib? Yet a recent study of 78 infants found that sleeping in the car seat can cause breathing problems. In another study of 47 sleep-related infant deaths in sitting devices like swings and bouncy seats, two-thirds of those deaths were due to car seats. "Car seats are designed for travel -- not sleep," says Jennifer Hoekstra, a car seat injury prevention specialist in Michigan at Helen DeVos Children's Hospital. "It's okay if baby falls asleep in their car seat while traveling, but once you get home and get things settled, transfer baby to a crib or other safe sleep space."

  • Leaving a Car Seat On a Counter or Other Raised Surface

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    When carrying your baby in the car seat, it may be tempting at some point set it down -- on a countertop, table, couch, or bed while you put your groceries away. Yet this is a huge no-no. "Never place a car seat on a raised surface," says Hoekstra. "If baby begins to rock the seat, it can easily topple off and injure the baby." There's only one safe place for a car seat outside of the car if your baby's in it: the floor.

  • Placing the Car Seat on a Shopping Cart

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    You've gotta get your groceries, but can't leave your baby in the car obviously ... so, placing your car seat in the seat of a shopping cart seems like a decent idea. Only it's not. "Placing a car seat on top of the shopping cart can be very dangerous," warns Hoekstra. "This causes the cart to become very top heavy and unstable. The car seats are not locked on top of the cart as many people assume; the carts actually say 'NO CAR SEATS.'" That said, Hoekstra can suggest a safer alternative. "You can safely place the car seat in the basket portion of the cart." Fine, so there's less room for your purchases, but baby's safety trumps all.

  • Using the Car Seat As a Restaurant High Chair

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    Seems simple enough: If a restaurant lacks high chairs, you can just plunk your car seat on top of a chair and voila -- instant high chair! Yet as is the case with any car seat on a raised surface, it can rock, tip, and fall -- even if you pull it up tight to the table. "And with waitresses running around with trays of hot food, this can be particularly dangerous," says Hoekstra.

    More from The Stir: Quiz: Is Your Car Seat As Safe As You Think?

  • Leaving Baby in the Car Seat Unbuckled

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    While you might make sure your baby's buckled in tight while in the car, who cares if the buckles are undone while the car seat is, say, sitting on your floor? Yet unbuckled car seat straps pose a strangulation risk. "Babies can wiggle or shift around in the seat when straps are not properly secured and get caught in the straps, causing serious injury or even death," says Hoekstra. "As a result, babies should be buckled tightly and correctly any time they are in the car seat. It doesn't matter if you are taking baby for a walk in the stroller or letting baby rest in the car seat while you put the groceries away. If baby is in the car seat they should be strapped in correctly."

  • Loosening the Straps Once You're Out of the Car

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    Similar to leaving a baby in a car seat unbuckled outside the car, even just loosening the straps so baby is more comfortable can pose a strangulation risk, says Hoekstra. Bottom line: If your baby's in his car seat, keep him buckled in as if he were in a moving car.

  • Toxins in the Car Seat

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    Scary but true: Some car seats contain dangerous chemicals like arsenic, bromine, chlorine, and lead because they're flame retardants -- which is great in case of a crash, but can pose a danger if too many of these microscopic particles are breathed in, leading to cancer and other health problems down the road. One study by the Ecology Center of 15 different models of car seats found that 75 percent of them contained toxins at dangerous levels. The good news is that some car seats do contain lower toxin levels, so it pays to check this study's breakdown of seats of "low" and "high" concern. And regardless of the seat you've got, you can lower a child's exposure levels by keeping the seat out of direct sunlight (since heat causes the seat to emit more toxins) and not letting kids sleep in the seat (which is dangerous in its own right anyway).

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

  • Burns

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    Come summertime, car seat surfaces can heat up and pose a different kind of hazard. "In the heat of summer, a car seat’s plastic and metal parts can become hot enough to leave a child with burn marks," says Jared Staver, a Chicago attorney who represents kids injured in car seats. "Obviously, you can’t control the sun shining, but you can buy a sun shade car seat cover or sun blockers for your car windows." Or else just make sure to feel the car seat before you place your baby in it to make sure it's not too hot.

  • Installing a Car Seat in a Stroller Frame Incorrectly

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    If your car seat snaps into a stroller frame, keep in mind this isn't a one-size-fits-all game. It's more like dating: Compatibility issues abound that could cause trouble. In other words, your car seat/stroller combo may look and feel stable, but if it isn't installed correctly, you may hit a bump and the whole thing could come loose.

    "You need to make sure that your car seat is approved to be used on the stroller and that you secure it to the stroller as the manufacturer intended," says Alisa Baer, a pediatrician and certified child car safety expert at The Car Seat Lady. "For example, many snap 'n' go's are actually strap 'n' go's, where you need to strap the car seat onto the stroller frame. Simply placing it on without use of the securing strap can lead to the car seat tumbling off the stroller frame."

    To make sure that doesn't happen to you, check the car seat/stroller compatibility chart at The Car Seat Lady. Also keep in mind that adapters may be sold separately, so make sure you've got all the right components.

  • Placing a Car Seat in a Bike Trailer

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    It seems like such a good idea: Place the car seat snugly in a bike trailer, start pedaling, and you're off, pulling baby behind you! Yet car seats and bike trailers can be a dangerous mix. "It's my pet peeve, and I see parents do it all the time," says Hoekstra. "Bottom line is, children are not supposed to be in that bike trailer until they're at least a year old, due to the way it shakes their head. Putting car seat in the trailer does not make it safer."

    More from The Stir: 9 Dangerous Car Seat Mistakes Parents Make & How to Fix Them

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