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Buckle Up for Safety Written by Laurel Segal, The Seagull Nest, CPST
Child Passenger Safety Month
With September being National Child Passenger Safety Month, I am given the opportunity to address the importance of vehicle related safety. Naturally everyone wants to keep their children safe in vehicles and I hope that you will learn at least one thing just by reading this blog.
Below I will explain the types of car seats, car seat rules and laws where I live (please note that I live in Massachusetts but know that laws and regulations are different all over the United States, so check the laws and regulations where you live) as well as why we don’t use aftermarket products and projectiles in vehicles.
Types of Car Seats
There are several different types of car seats/restraints:
- rear facing only (“baby bucket seats”)
- high back boosters
- no back boosters
- safety vests.
Rear Facing Seat
A rear facing only seat is what a lot of parents (or caregivers) use when an infant is born. These seats have the advantage of being super portable and with a baby being so little and fragile, new parents often feel safer with these types of seats rather than starting with a convertible seat.
Convertible Car Seat
Convertible seats are used in both the rear facing and forward facing positions. They do not have a base that is left in the car while the rest of the seat is taken out of the car but instead the base is built into the car seat. Convertible seats generally start around 5 lbs and go to as much as 40-50lbs rear facing and 40-65 forward facing. Convertible seats can be used for newborns as well as older children until they reach the height and/or weight requirements of that seat. There are some convertible car seats that are made to be used rear facing and then forward facing and then as a booster seat.
Combination Car Seat
The next type of car seat is called a combination car seat. These seats are made to be used only in the forward facing position and then as a booster.
Booster seats are used simply to raise the child up high enough so that the shoulder strap of the vehicle seat belt crosses across the child’s shoulder and is not cutting into their neck.
Finally the SafeRider Travel Vest is a safe alternative to a booster seat and can be used in many circumstances in which car seats aren’t ideal, such as three children of appropriate age and size in the back seat of a vehicle or in a taxi.
Depending on where you live, you will find different laws around car seat safety. It is important to make sure that you know what your state laws are when it comes to keeping your children safe in the car. In Massachusetts, where I live,
- a child must be in an appropriate car seat or restraint that is installed and used correctly until they are at least 8 years old.
- Children that are 57” or taller or over the age of 8 must wear a minimum of a seat belt.
- It is a strong recommendation that a child does not ride in the front seat until they are 13 years old or older.
Extended Rear Facing
It is strongly recommended but not a law that a child under the age of two stay rear facing until they meet the height and weight requirements of their specific car seat.
It is very common for a parent or caregiver to be concerned that their child’s legs are uncomfortable because they need to move in interesting ways to fit appropriately but please believe me when I say that they are comfortable. Young children are super flexible and they can move in positions that we as adults wouldn’t imagine. All passengers would be much safer in a vehicle if we could all travel rear facing.
I am a big proponent for extended rear facing but that doesn’t mean that you need to be.
Make sure that you read the manual of your car seat and of your vehicle. You want to know what the height and weight requirements for your child’s seat are and that your child is within those limits.
Have you ever walked into a baby store and noticed all of the aftermarket products that are “perfect” for your car seat? You choose a brightly colored headrest that looks super comfy and buy it for your baby. The truth is that these products are actually not safe to use.
The only items that are safe to use in your car seat are items that are produced by the manufacturer of your car seat.
I understand how tempting it can be to buy all of these items as they look like they are safe for a car seat (and are so cute!) but just remember, unless they are made by the actual manufacturer of your car seat, these items cannot be used in, on, or under the car seat. This same rule also stands when it comes to car seat mats. There are many manufacturers that make and allow car seat protectors or mats and these are okay to use as long as the manufacturer is the same as the car seat. There are also many aftermarket brands that make car seat protectors or mats but please do not use these.
What about a toy that I can hook to the shoulder straps of my baby’s car seat? Why can’t I use it if it is clipped on and won’t fly off? The reason that aftermarket products are not allowed to be used in a vehicle with a car seat is because these products have not been crash tested or crash tested with the specific seat that you are using. It is impossible to know how your child’s car seat would perform in a crash with a toy attached to it or with an aftermarket headrest on it. Is that headrest flammable? Would the toy make the seat not perform the way it is supposed to? Nobody knows the answers to these questions so it is safest not to find out by accident.
Projectiles in your Vehicle
Books, toys, your pocket book, a cup. What do these items have to do with car seat safety? Have you ever considered that these items could become projectiles in a crash? There’s a reason that we are seat belted and in child safety restraints in a car. In the event of a crash, anything that is not strapped down can easily become a projectile. Consider this the next time you are in the car.
Look around and see what might go flying during a high impact crash. You can tuck your purse under the front seat, you can put books, toys, diaper bags, groceries or anything else you desire in the trunk or cargo department of your car in a secured area. Even if your toddler has a sippy cup and you get in a crash, that cup could become a weapon. Obviously I want you to use caution when you have anything in the car with you or your children. Heading on a long trip with a young child? Try a soft plush board book instead of a hardcover board book.
My goal as a Child Passenger Safety Technician is to give you the knowledge to help you keep the children in your life safe in a vehicle. Knowledge is power and the more that we know, the more that we know. I have a passion for educating about safety and hope that you were able to walk away from reading this blog having learned at least one thing. In the event that you are looking for a CPST in your area to teach you how to install your car seat or for information, please look here for someone in your area: Be safe out there!