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5 most common mistakes with car or booster seats

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5 most common mistakes with car or booster seats

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This series, originally published by the Arizona Republic, was produced by the Dennis A. Hunt Fund for Health Journalism and the National Health Journalism Fellowship, programs of the University of Southern California's Annenberg School of Journalism. Other pieces in this series include:

What kind of car seat should I use?

Trainers are motivated to teach others about car-seat safety

Seat Them Safely: Reporting spurs community project

Majority of parents don't install car seats correctly

What you need to know about car-seat safety

5 most common mistakes with car or booster seats

The Republic
Saturday, August 8, 2015

[Click here for SPANISH VERSION]

Here’s how to avoid five of the most common mistakes parents make when installing or using car seats or booster seats, according to child-safety experts:

1. Use the right seat

Though some guidelines say infants and toddlers should stay in rear-facing seats until they are 2 years old, you should keep them in rear-facing seats longer if possible, until they reach the height and weight limits listed by the car-seat maker. Then they should stay in forward-facing seats with a harness as long as possible, until they reach the height or weight limits listed by the seat maker. Then they should sit in booster seats, which help position the lap and shoulder belts properly, until they are at least 57 inches tall. Older children should ride in the back seat until they are at least 13, because they can be killed or severely injured by front-seat airbags.

2. Make sure the seat is attached tightly enough

The bottom line: If you can move the seat more than one inch side to side or front to back; it’s too loose. Types of seats and how they are attached vary. But they all should be attached securely. Whether you are using a rear-facing seat for infants, a forward-facing seat with a five-point harness, or a belt-positioning booster seat, follow manufacturer’s instructions. Get it checked if you have any doubts or questions. To find the nearest car-seat technician or the next car-seat installation event in the Phoenix area, call 602-495-KIDS (5437). You can also call your local Fire Department.

3. Use the seat every time — no exceptions

“Occasionally letting a child not be in a car seat sets up behavioral challenges,” said Kristy Arbogast, co-scientific director of the Center for Injury Research and Prevention at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. “If you let them not do it a few times, you’ve opened the door for a continued battle. Eating green beans or taking a bath may be negotiable. Using a car seat is the best strategy to prevent the leading cause of death for your child. That’s non-negotiable.”

4. Make sure straps as snug as possible

If you can pinch excess webbing at the shoulder or hips, then the straps aren’t snug enough. Straps should not sag or have any slack. The crotch strap on infant seats keeps the child from moving forward, so don’t leave it too long. The straps shouldn’t press down on your child’s flesh or push his or her body into an unnatural position. Some rear-facing infant seats have a three-point harness (that is, three straps that attach at the center point). Most seats, including those that can convert from rear facing to forward facing, use a five-point harness. Make sure all the straps are buckled securely, and are in the right slots.

5. Never use booster seats with just a lap belt

Never have the shoulder belt under their arm or behind their back. The lap belt should go low across the upper thighs and the shoulder belt across the chest. Most seats come with a shoulder-belt positioner that lets you adjust the height of the belt on the child. Make sure the shoulder belt doesn’t go across your child’s neck.