One More Thing

Many parents are diligent about preparing their vehicle for a summer vacation. They have the oil, fluids, belts and hoses checked; they make certain the tires are in good condition and inflated to the proper pressure, and that's the way it should be. But parents need to add at least one more item to their safety checklist before they take to the highways this summer: child safety seats. Fewer than one in six child seats is installed correctly, according to new data from AAA, and that's a frightening statistic.

"Parents make detailed plans to get the oil changed, stop home newspaper delivery, and even pack snacks before a big family car trip, yet many don't take five minutes to check that their young passengers will be safe," said Bella Dinh-Zarr, PhD, AAA director of traffic safety policy. "By adding this to their pre-trip 'checklist', parents can travel with the peace of mind that comes from knowing that their little ones are safe."

Those recommendations come in the wake of troubling new data from AAA that indicates, despite waves of publicity, parents are still doing a poor job of installing child safety seats. An analysis of more than 1,100 safety seat inspections in the new AAA Safety Seat Database showed that 85 percent of seats were installed or used incorrectly. The top five mistakes parents made were: not installing the seat tightly (64 percent of previously installed seats); harness straps not snug on child (28 percent); retainer clips not at armpit level (19 percent); locking clips used incorrectly (19 percent); and harness threaded incorrectly (11 percent).

Parents and other caregivers should make it their business to take five minutes to address these top five mistakes made in using child safety seats:
  1. Check that the safety seat is installed tightly. Grab the child seat where the seat belt threads through it and pull. It should not lift up more than one inch or move more than one inch from side to side. If it does, it is not tight enough. (The seat can be installed more tightly by using your body weight to depress it against the seat cushions when fastening the seat belt. Sticking your knee into the seat can work wonders.)

  2. Be sure the harness straps are pulled tightly to the child. The harness should be snug and lie flat on the child so that no slack can be pinched in the straps. While the straps needn't be so tight that they make the child uncomfortable, they need to be tight enough to restrain the child immediately in event of an accident.

  3. Position the retainer clip at the child's armpit level when the harness is snug. An improperly positioned retainer clip causes the harness straps to fit incorrectly.

  4. Check that the locking clip is in the right place and is threaded correctly. These locking or retainer clips can be tricky to install, but correct installation is crucial to your child's safety. Child safety seat manuals and car owner's manuals give specific information about using retainer clips. For additional help, parents should contact the child seat manufacturer or attend a child safety seat check.

  5. Harness straps must not be twisted and should be routed through the appropriate slots for the direction that the seat is facing. Rear-facing seats should have the straps at or below the child's shoulders; forward-facing seats should have the straps at or above the child's shoulders.

  6. When in doubt, don't just assume everything will be okay. Answers to your child seat questions are out there from the child seat manufacturers, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, and from AAA. For more information on child safety seats and help finding a local child seat check, go to the AAA Public Affairs Web site, then select "For Kids' Sake."