THE 1-2-3 OF CHILD CAR SEAT SAFETY
By: Angela De Groot
The baby’s room is ready. You have an array of outfits and a year’s supply of diaper rash ointment, but the car seat is the most important item you will need, starting with the ride home from the hospital.
When researching different models, keep in mind that high cost doesn’t necessarily translate to the highest safety performance. Compare ease of installation, harness buckles and strap systems, compatibility with your vehicle’s interior and safety standards. The safest car seat is one that is installed correctly, fits your child properly, and is convenient to use:
- Follow the manufacturer’s instructions and your vehicle owner’s manual
- Install the seat in the back seat of the vehicle, facing in the correct direction for your child’s age, weight, and height. Make sure the seat doesn’t wobble or slide. Visit www.nj.gov to find a schedule and list of locations with certified technicians to assist in correct car seat installation.
- Snugly fasten your child into the seat. There should be no more than one finger-width of slack between the collarbone and the harness strap. Blankets or coats should go over the harness. Rolled receiving blankets may be used on each side of the baby’s body to prevent slumping.
New Jersey law requires that children under the age of 8 and a height of 57 inches be secured in the back seat of a vehicle. Front passenger seat airbags can cause serious and fatal injuries.
- Under 2 years old and 30 pounds: rear-facing harness seat
- Under 4 years old and 40 pounds: rear-facing seat until they exceed the seat’s rear-facing limits, then secured in forward-facing harness seat.
- Under 8 years old and a height of 57 inches: 5-point harness seat until they exceed the upper limits of that seat, then moved to a booster seat.
The Academy of Pediatrics recommends that kids ride rear-facing up to the age of 2 to avoid spinal injury during an accident.
Before allowing children aged 8-13 to ride without booster seats, perform the knee-shoulder-neck test. Children must meet all three points before they can safely ride without a booster seat.
- Knees should bend at the seat edge while they are sitting against the back seat.
- Seat belt straps must lie across the upper thighs and the shoulder, not across the tummy or the neck.
- Able to sit without slouching or shifting so that the belt remains in the correct position over the shoulder and thighs for the duration of every car journey.
If you have a little Houdini on your hands, check that the shoulder straps are in the correct slots, that the harness is snug, and that the retainer clip is at armpit level. Stop the car every time your child gets out of his safety seat. Explain that you cannot drive until everyone is buckled up. Provide soft toys or books to prevent boredom.
Most manufacturers suggest replacing a car seat 5-8 years after the date of manufacture. Wear and tear may diminish safety performance. Current models may have better safety features than older models. Car seats that have been in a car accident should be replaced. Internal weakening of the plastic may have occurred which could affect safety performance.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration recommends that children aged 12 and under be restrained in the rear seat of the vehicle. This reduces the chance of injury and death by more than 30%.
One person, one safety belt. Children sharing safety belts or sitting on an adult’s lap have suffered severe injuries.