Type A Mom: Carseat Safety

By Alison Noble

Remember that nerve-filled ride home from the hospital with your firstborn?  If you were like me, you nervously buckled in your new bundle of joy, then proceeded at snail’s pace to your destination.  A deep sigh of relief ensued, and your blood pressure slowly returned to normal.

Safety was at the front of my mind as a paranoid new parent.  Then my newborn boy turned into baby boy, then again into toddler boy.  Before I know it, he’ll be a teenager, behind the wheel himself (shutter).  Safely transporting my son now is no less important than it was when he was tiny, so I try to make a conscious effort to be as careful as I was that very first ride and to be a role model for safety in the car.  After all, kiddie cargo is precious.  Since I am no expert, I consulted someone with far more knowledge on car seat safety, a woman who is as passionate as she is informed about keeping young passengers safe.

Allana Pinkerton, a certified Child Passenger Safety (CPS) technician and founder of locally based non-profit organization, Sit Tight, offers some helpful advice for parents of all age groups, especially those in car seats. This safety-minded mom began a crusade to promote car seat safety and awareness after she was not allowed to install her child’s car seat on a school bus in 2000.  The incident motivated Allana to obtain her CPS certification and volunteer her time at Children’s Hospital as a car seat technician and instructor.  Although this time was fulfilling, Allana grew frustrated over budget cuts that could potentially lead to the demise of Alabama’s CPS program. To avoid being at the mercy of government funding, she formed Sit Tight, a donations-based organization with the mission “to educate people in the communities throughout Alabama about the issues related to Child Passenger Safety concerns in order to reduce deaths and injuries to children and teenagers caused by motor vehicle crashes.” In a conversation about the importance of car seat safety, Allana stressed the following key points.

  • Parents can purchase a safe seat at any price-point.  A seat that costs $80 and a seat that retails for $200 should all meet the same federal crash test standards. Allana explained that since manufacturers want to be competitive, they all stay relatively on top of the latest safety innovations.  Regardless of your car seat budget, there is a seat that meets your child’s basic needs.  The seat itself is not as important as the way it is used, as explained below.
  • Proper installation and buckling is crucial.  Even the poshest, priciest car seat cannot be effective if it is not installed correctly.  The most common installation mistakes that Allana encounters are that the seat is not secured tightly enough or the seatbelt is secured through the incorrect path in the seat.  “If I see one thing wrong, I usually see a second, third, etc.” Allana stated.  Mistakes are often made because the manuals may be confusing to parents and contain an overwhelming amount of information. For this very reason, it is wise to have your seat checked by a certified car seat technician.  Don’t simply let the technician install it for you; it is his or her job to teach you how to do it properly yourself so when you need to reinstall it in another vehicle, you can be prepared and confident.  In addition to a proper install, it is important to buckle your child properly.  One common mistake parents make is positioning the retainer clip too low, which should be buckled at armpit level.  Also, the seatbelt should be tight enough and be locked, with the shoulder belts threaded through the appropriate paths.
  • Make sure your child is in the correct type of seat or seat position for his or her age.  Although some pediatricians give the green light to switch the child from rear facing to forward facing at the one-year check up appointment, the American Society of Pediatrics’ stance is that “it is best for children to ride rear-facing as long as possible to the highest weight and height allowed by the manufacturer of their convertible seat.”  While this is their recommendation, it will likely be the American Academy of Pediatrics’ policy in the near future.  Some pediatricians are slow to promote the extended rear facing movement, but as Allana simply phrased, “Pediatricians are not your car seat experts.”  Allana sees an increasing number of parents keeping their children rear facing for longer, which she predicts to only grow as more people look at the mounting research.

A common safety mishap Allana frequently notices is premature seat “promotion” – parents move a child out of a five-point harness or booster seat too soon. Ideally, a child should remain in a five-point harness until he or she has met the maximum height and weight requirements for that particular seat.  After that stage, a child should ride in a booster seat until the adult belts properly fit, which occurs roughly when the child reaches about 4’9” in height. To avoid injuries caused by air bag deployment, a child is safest riding in the back seat until age thirteen.

  • Parents of older children need to start conversations about car safety long before they take the wheel.  After seeing at least thirty-six unbuckled teenagers in moving vehicles in a single day around Vestavia Hills High School, Allana was stunned at how many older children disregard the most basic vehicle safety measure.  Whether driving or riding with others, teenagers need to know a seatbelt can mean the difference between life or death in an accident.  Parents need to first and foremost be role models in safe driving and habits, but they also need to have frank conversations with their kids about the ramifications of reckless driving.  “Explain to them that whatever they do in the car directly affects the entire family… that a car can be a deadly weapon on wheels,” Allana suggested.  A written contract, outlining the rules you wish your child to follow, can be helpful in promoting responsibility and encouraging dialogue.  Since today’s teens are visual learners, find videos about occupant safety and watch them together. To counteract the invincible feeling that teenagers often possess, adults must arm kids with facts and stress the tremendous responsibility that accompanies driving.
  • Seek out resources to help ensure your family’s safety. It may seem obvious, but don’t underestimate the information you can get from your specific car seat manufacturer.  Register your car seat so that the company can directly inform you of any recalls.  Many car seat websites feature videos about the seats and their installation, which can be much more helpful than a two-dimensional drawing in your paper manual.  Also, the customer-service hotline for your seat is a great avenue to direct your specific questions.

If you need help installing your child’s car seat or need it checked, make an appointment with a technician holding a current certification.  Ask to see his or her National Highway and Traffic Safety Adminstration (NHTSA) card and make sure the date is not expired.  Sometimes individuals get certified, then never update it or continue their education, which can lead to costly oversights.  A person with current certification should be able to teach you the installation process if you are having difficulty or check a previously installed seat.  In addition to installations, certified car seat technicians can also help you educate your older children about safety.  If you sense that your teenager is tuning you out during discussions about driving, a certified expert can help.  To avoid sounding like a lecturer, Allana gives interactive, lively presentations for teenagers to hammer home the importance of vehicle safety.  Sometimes having a third party involved can be more effective or at least reinforce the parents’ points about safety, and a car seat technician is a valuable ally to utilize for this purpose.

For additional information involving car seat and vehicle safety, visit the following links:

One thought on “Type A Mom: Carseat Safety

  1. Another point that was made in our childbirth classes was that ALL occupants of the car need to have a seatbelt on. An unbuckled adult can be thrown around the car, and into the child (or anyone else) in the event of an accident. No one rides in my car without buckling up, which is a point of contention with my mother-in-law who has to be reminded EVERY TIME. My son (3 1/2) now does the reminding when she rides with us, and he is not allowed to ride in the car with her because of her refusal to wear her seatbelt.

    I’m also surprised by the number of parents I see leaving our daycare center that do not buckle their children in if they are just going a short distance.

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