Friday, January 25, 2013

Car Seat Safety: Oh, you’re squishy and other tidbits (Part 3 of 3)

Securing the Child to the Seat

One of the most common errors I see is when people do not have their children secured properly to the seat. Carseat straps do not tighten upon impact as do seatbelts, so they need to be tight enough to restrain the child all the time. Children are squishy, especially new ones, so we need to take extra care to do this.

A few tips to ensure your child is secured tightly enough:

  • Ensure that when you are tightening the straps, that the child’s bum is all the way at the back of the seat. No slouching allowed!
  • Do not dress your child in bulky clothing (this includes snowsuits and bulky winter jackets) in any seat, or use “cuddle-type” bags in your infant seat. Anything that gets between the child, strap and seat impedes your ability to get the straps tight and secure enough to restrain the child in a collision. This goes for you too, no bulky coats in the car! In winter, use a fleece outfit or other thin layers, and place a blanket over the child after the straps are done up. This also allows you to remove the blanket once the vehicle warms up, so that he/she is not sweating buckets in the back seat.
  • It is important that the straps (where they are positioned at the child’s shoulders) are in the correct slot. For rear-facing children, the straps must come from the seat at or below the child’s shoulders. For forward-facing children, the straps must come out at or above the child’s shoulders.
  • There are two tests to see if you have the straps tight enough: the pinch test and the finger test. The pinch test: attempt, at the collarbone, to pinch a horizontal section of strap between your thumb and forefinger. If you can pinch any strapping, it is too loose. The finger test: You should not be able to fit more than one finger under the strap at the child’s collarbone. When in doubt, tighten a little more.

After Market Products and Projectiles

Anything that is not sold with the seat for use with that seat is not recommended. This includes:

  • Suction cup roller shades
  • Vehicle seat protectors
  • Clip on toys
  • Headrest mirrors
  • Head “huggers”
  • Strap covers

These after-market items have not been crash tested with the seat you are using, and certainly not crash tested to the same standards for safe use with your child. (If you don’t have tint on your vehicle windows you can purchase cling-film type shades for use – these are acceptable.)

Some of the above items, in the event of a collision, also have a great chance of becoming projectiles within the vehicle, which is a large part of why they are unsafe for use. Ideally you should have nothing “floating” around in your vehicle that could injure you or your passengers. Unfortunately this includes travel mugs, sippy cups, books, toys, and many other common items. Ideally stow loose items in the trunk, under a cargo cover of some type or strap them in securely using a seatbelt.

When to move to the next Stage

Forward-Facing Seat

  • Ideally children are kept rear-facing for as long as possible (at least until age 2), to the allowable limits of the seat.
  • If your child’s feet are touching the back seat in the rear-facing position, this is OK, it does not mean that you need to switch to forward-facing.

Moving to a Booster Seat

  • Children should be kept forward-facing in a 5-point harness to the upper height or weight of the seat, and until they are developmentally and emotionally ready to use a booster seat. (ie. They are mature enough to sit and wear their seatbelt properly.)
  • Children MUST stay in a five point restraint until they are 40 lbs, regardless of age.
  • The booster seat must fit such that the child’s head is supported by the top of the booster, vehicle seat, or headrest.
  • Ensure that the seatbelt straps sit properly on the child. Shoulder straps must lie across the child’s shoulder (not neck or face) and middle of chest. The lap belt must cross low over the hips (not the abdomen).
  • Always strap in the booster seat when not occupied, so that it does not become a projectile in a collision.

Moving to a Seatbelt

  • A seatbelt alone can be used only when children are tall enough for it to be positioned correctly, and can use it properly.
  • The law in Ontario states that children need to be in a booster seat until they are eight years old OR 80 lbs OR 4 feet 9 inches.

**Remember that the safest place for any child under 13 years is in the backseat, away from the active frontal airbags.

Want more Information?

There are a number of organizations whose mission is to educate parents in the safe transportation of their children. You can search online to find an organization with certified technicians in your area such as: Transport Canada, Ministry of Transportation (Ontario), SEATS for Kids Canada, City of Ottawa, Child Passenger Safety Association of Canada

What did you Learn?

The following is part three of a three part guest post on Car Seat Safety. Rene is a certified Car Seat Technician in the Province of Ontario. She is posting on her own merits, not as a representative of any one specific organization.

Note that Journeys of The Zoo makes no claims to know anything about car seat safety. Please check with a local representative regarding any questions you may have.

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