Every year, more than 90,000 children under age 8 are injured in car crashes, and more than 1,000 are killed. In fact, auto accidents are by far the leading cause of death for children.
Car seats dramatically reduce the risk of death or serious injury in a collision. But many well-meaning parents make mistakes that put their kids at risk. Here are the biggies to avoid:
Not installing the car seat correctly
A car seat won't do its job if it's not installed correctly. Among the most common mistakes: Not buckling the car seat in tightly enough. Check to be sure that car seats don't tip forward or slide from side to side more than an inch.
You can also have your seat installation checked by a professional.
Not using the car seat consistently
"We were only going to the grocery store ..." "He hates to ride in his car seat, so just this once I didn't make him ..." "She was having a meltdown, so I took her out of her seat for a minute to calm her down." Safety experts hear these words all too often from distraught parents after tragedy has struck. Remember, a one-time lapse can result in a lifetime of regret.
Using an old or secondhand seat
That safety seat you scored at a garage sale for a fraction of its original price may seem like a bargain, but it could cost your child his/her life. The same goes for that older-model seat your sister gave you after his/her child outgrew it.
Not only are used seats unlikely to come with the manufacturer's instructions (vital for correct installation), but they could be missing important parts, have been involved in an accident (even unseen damage can affect the seat's functioning), fall short of current safety standards, or have been recalled due to faulty design. Moreover, plastic gets brittle as it gets older, so a seat that's too old could break in a crash. (You can usually find an expiration date stamped somewhere on the seat.)
If you must use a secondhand seat, make sure it has the original instructions (or contact the manufacturer for a replacement copy), has all its parts (check the manual), has never been involved in a serious accident, and hasn't been recalled.
Turning your child to face forward too soon
Children have large heads and comparatively weak necks, so in a head-on collision (the most common type of crash), a child's head can jerk forward suddenly and violently, resulting in spinal injuries. For this reason, keep your child in a rear-facing position as long as possible. keep your child in a rear-facing car seat until the age of 2, or until he or she reaches the seat's maximum rear-facing height and weight limits.