It’s cold outside. Especially in the morning when I have to bundle up my little ones, take them outside and load them into the cold car and strap them into their cold car seats. Those big fluffy, adorable winter coats that I use to keep them warm could be causing a seriously dangerous situation. Christie Haskell, a mom and author, talked with Detroit Mommies about car seat safety.
“After my own incredibly severe accident as a teenager, car seat safety was something I always thought about, and even doing the best I could, there was just so much I didn’t know. The more I learned, the more I realized I was doing wrong, even trying so hard to do it right, so I realize there is a huge need for layman’s terms and explanations from real people, not just a manual,” Haskell said.
When it comes to coats, the bulky jackets can keep the harness from getting as tight as necessary to properly ensure the child is safe.
“Even when you pull the harness straps very tight around a child in their car seat, the coat is deceptive and makes it only feel as if the child is in securely, but the reality is that in an accident, the coat will compress way more than you’re capable of squeezing it, often leaving shocking and frightening gaps that can cause partial or total ejection from the car seat,” Haskell said. She created a video and posted on YouTube demonstrating this concept.
Haskell said the safety of jackets in booster seats is debated by experts. She said it’s important that children in booster seats is upright, not leaning in any direction, 100 percent of the time. She said parents should make sure the lap portion fits snugly across the top of their thighs, which might mean lifting the coat to put the belt under it. She also suggested unzipping the coat to make sure the strap goes across the collarbone and doesn’t slide around.
Jackets can pose a safety risk, but a lot of times parents start off on the wrong foot. While they think just having their child in the car seat is safe enough, it’s also about how the child fits in the car seat. Haskell said it’s important to know the weight restrictions on the car seat and follow those for sure, but height also plays a factor.
“When a rear-facing child has less than an inch of the hard shell of the seat left above their head (measured perpendicular from the angle of the back of the seat, NOT from the ground), they’ve outgrown the seat in height. When the top of a forward-facing child’s ears are level with the top of the hard shell, or the straps on the highest position are below their shoulders, they are too tall. Most children outgrow seats in height before weight, but not always,” Haskell said. “When it comes to putting them in their seats, the biggest mistake is not tightening the straps enough.”
She encourages parents to use The Pinch Test to make sure the straps are tight enough.
“Once you pull the straps snug and move the chest clip to it’s proper nipple/armpit level placement, try pinching the strap at collarbone level (your fingers are on top and bottom, so the strap would be pinched parallel to the ground). If you can pinch the harness between your fingers, it’s too loose. A lot of people instantly think this is too tight, but it’s not. You can do it too tight, but too loose is dangerous, too tight is just uncomfortable,” Haskell said.
Many of my friends have said they know of people who post pictures on Facebook of their children belted in the car seats and it’s just wrong. The chest clip is near the belly button or the straps are too loose. Haskell said it’s a sensitive subject but important to remind the parents of car seat safety. She uses the following ways to approach this subject. First, send a private message. Don’t call them out in public. Second, compliment them and their child, third bring yourself to their level.
“Say you see a friend’s six-month-old in their seat with loose straps and a belly clip. Start out with a compliment: ‘Baby is so big now, and so adorable! I can’t believe she’s six-months-old already!’ Next, add in your correction, but pretend do not correct them, blame the material you’re using and pretend like you were in desperate need of it as well, so they don’t get the feeling like you’re being superior or a know-it-all: ‘I was looking through your Facebook pictures and saw Baby in her car seat, and wanted to share an article with you I read the other day. It’s amazing how many things there are to remember about car seats! Check out Number 5 about the chest clip. The article has tons of stuff that I had no idea about, so I help you find it really helpful too!,’” Haskell said. She added to follow it up with another compliment. “While some people will still rebuke this approach, this has always gotten me the best results.”
Haskell said the return-on-investment in a car seat is really high. She said it’s always wise to buy a safe seat that will last the child a while than to buy a cheap seat that must be replaced when the child outgrows in quickly. Haskell recommended contacting a Safe Kids Certified Car Seat Technician and ask any questions you have before you purchase a car seat.
“Honestly, I would sell anything I could, including blood, to get the safest seat I could for my kids, and there are organizations such as the Kyle David Miller Foundation that work to help people get seats to keep their children safe,” Haskell said.
So what car seats does Haskell recommend? For infant seats, she likes the Chicco Keyfit 30 because it’s easy to install and has a higher weight limit and easy-to-use buckles and chest clip. She like the Britax Boulevard and Advocate when it comes to convertible seats. She said they are rear-facing up to 40 pounds. For tall children, she recommends the Sunshine Kids Radian XTSL, which is rear-facing until 45 pounds. She said more budget-friendly seats includes the First Years True Fit, which is rear-facing until 35 pounds, but it is tall and great for skinny and lightweight children. For shorter, heavier children, she recommends the Graco MyRide 65, which rear-face to 40 pounds but is shorter.
For forward-facing-only seats, Haskell recommends the Britax Frontier 85. It provides a harness up to 85 pounds and transforms into a highly rated high-back, belt-positioning booster seat for use up to 120 pounds. For dedicated boosters, she recommends the Chicco Keyfit Strada, which can be used up to 100 pounds and the Clek Oobr, which is highly rated and has a very cool design.
“As long as you know you have your seat installed correctly (have Safe Kids technicians check it!), that your child is within the weight and height limits, and you are using the straps correctly, your seat should function correctly,” Haskell said. “Make sure you mail your recall card so you can be aware of any recalls, and check the seat and straps periodically for any sign of unusual wear and tear, such as fraying straps, and have your manufacturer replace parts if needed.”