Whether you’re in the market for a brand new car seat, upgrading from an older one, or switching modes with your current seat, there’s one thing you can be certain of: car seat safety myths. Everywhere you look there seems to be different advice or recommendations. Maybe you’ve been told one thing by your friend, but you notice everyone doing it differently on social media. One of the best and most reliable places to turn to for car seat and child passenger safety advice is a Child Passenger Safety Technician.
Luckily, we have our very own! Meet Scott. He’s our Diono CPST and has been an expert in child passenger safety for many years. In this blog he’ll help you to bust some of the most common car seat safety myths.
- “Children should ride forward-facing when they reach the age of two.”
You’ve probably heard the saying “Rear-facing until two.” But why is it so important to keep kids rear-facing for so long? Studies have found that rear-facing travel reduces the risk of death by up to 71% for infants and toddlers. In some states, the law requires that kids ride rear-facing until two years old. Once your child turns two, there’s no hurry to switch them forward-facing. Diono and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommend rear-facing until your child reaches the rear-facing height or weight limit of their car seat. If either of those limits are met, then it’s time to switch to forward-facing mode. In the case of an infant car seat, once the height or weight limit is reached then it would be time to move to a convertible car seat so the child can continue riding rear-facing.
- “Using the top tether is optional with a forward-facing car seat.”
When doing car seat checks, one of the things we see most often is the top tether not being used. Some car seat manufacturers require the use of the top tether, and others recommend using it. Using the top tether provides an additional layer of safety because it can reduce the amount a forward-facing child’s head moves forward by up to 6-inches in a frontal crash. This can prevent their head from striking the back of the vehicle seat in front of them, thus preventing head injury.
- “The middle back seat is the safest place for my car seat.”
Generally, the center seating position would be the furthest away from any vehicle intrusion in a side impact crash. However, that doesn’t guarantee that it’s the best place to install your car seat. Factors that will determine this include lower LATCH anchors and/or seat belt location, the size, shape, and contour of the center seat, and if there is a headrest in the center seating position*. Ultimately, the safest seating position for your car seat’s installation is the one that gives you the best installation with the method you’ve chosen (LATCH or seat belt).
*Some car seat manufacturers require forward-facing car seats and boosters to be installed in vehicle seats with a headrest.
- “My child’s feet touch the back seat. It’s time to forward-face.”
Leg injuries for rear-facing children are very rare. In fact, there is no data to support this myth that a rear-facing child’s legs are more susceptible to injury in a crash. The most common type of crash is frontal and in this case a rear-facing child’s legs will fly up and away from the back seat. When a child is forward-facing the injury rate for lower extremities goes up because the legs are thrown forward in a frontal crash. The injuries are usually caused by the legs hitting the vehicle seat back in front of them or hitting the center console.
- “My toddler just turned 4 so it’s time for a booster seat.”
Age is not the sole factor that determines whether your child is ready to move to a booster seat. Boosters have minimum height and weight requirements too, but they are just that…the minimum requirements. At age four, most children aren’t mature enough to ride in a booster because they must stay seated in the proper position for the entire ride to ensure the adult seat belt stays positioned correctly. This level of maturity isn’t typically reached until age five or older. If they can’t stay seated correctly in a booster, then it’s safer for them to remain in the five-point harness if they are still within the height and weight limits of their car seat.
- “My child is taller than average, so they don’t need a booster seat.”
While a child might be taller than average, that does not mean that they’re ready to ride without a booster seat. Making sure the adult seat belt fits properly is the main factor in deciding to graduate out of a booster. But how do you know when your child is ready? Have your child take the 5-Step Test in EVERY vehicle they’ll be riding in.
- Their knees bend comfortably at the edge of the vehicle seat, with their feet flat on the floor.
- Their bottom is all the way back in the seat.
- The lap belt lies low on the hips, at the top of the thighs.
- The shoulder belt is flat on the shoulder and crosses on the collarbone.
- Your child can stay seated like this for the entire ride.
If all five steps are not met then your child must continue to ride in a booster.
- “Using the seat belt and the LATCH connectors together means my installation will be even more secure.”
Unless your car seat manufacturer’s manual states that the seat belt and LATCH connectors can be used together, it is not allowed to use both to install your car seat. Why? Because seats aren’t crash tested using both installation methods. In addition, neither method is safer than the other. You should always use the method that results in the best installation in the seating position you’ve chosen in your vehicle. A properly installed car seat will not move more than one inch side-to-side or front-to-back when checked at the belt path being used. If you can’t get a tight fit using the LATCH connectors, a seat belt installation may be better, and vice versa.
- “I’ll need an infant carrier for my newborn.”
While there are many benefits to an infant carrier, like their convenience and portability, there's no rule that says you should purchase an infant carrier instead of a convertible car seat that's suitable for infants. Truth is, convertible car seats are often much more budget friendly since babies outgrow their infant seats pretty quickly, usually within a year. Many caregivers prefer the portability of an infant carrier, but it is recommended that an infant not spend more than two hours in their car seat.
- “Buying a used car seat is just as safe as a new seat, but cheaper.”
Maybe yes, maybe no. If you’re considering buying a used car seat, make sure you know, and can verify, the history of the seat. If a car seat has been in a crash, there may not be any visual indication of damage. However, structural components could be damaged, and the harness system could be compromised. Even a minor crash can exert enough force on a car seat to render it unusable. If you can’t verify crash history, then don’t buy it. You’ll also want to make sure the seat isn’t expired and that there have been no recalls issued for the seat. Does it have the manual and all the parts and pieces? If not, take a pass and buy new. If you’re buying from a friend or family member and know for a fact it’s never been in a crash, isn’t expired and all the bits are there then it can be good way to save some money.
- “After the first installation, my car seat will be safe until I switch modes.”
Whether you’ve installed your car seat for the first time or the hundredth time, it’s a good idea to ALWAYS check to make sure it’s installed properly. Using this simple 5-point checklist before every journey will ensure your child is buckled in correctly and riding as safe as possible:
- Check installation only at the belt path being used. Give it a firm handshake. If it moves less than one inch side to side or front to back, it’s secure.
- Check the harness straps are in the proper position. For a forward-facing child, harness straps should be above their shoulders. Rear-facing children should have their harness straps at or below their shoulders.
- Do the Pinch Test to check if the harness strap is secure. If you can pinch the webbing between your fingers at your child’s collarbone, tighten the harness until you can’t pinch the webbing.
- Position the chest clip at arm pit level. Not at their belly button or tucked under their chin, secure the chest clip at arm pit level.
- If your Diono® seat has a head support, position it so the bottom is about even with their jaw, as this will offer the most protection.