CHESAPEAKE, Va. (WAVY) – Experts say in a crash, a properly installed car seat can be the difference between a child walking away and never walking again.
Just last month, a crash in Chesapeake left a woman seriously injured. Her infant daughter was in the car with her but only suffered minor injuries. Police confirmed that the infant was in a car seat.
Car seats are proven to decrease the risk of fatal injury or death for children under 8 by 54% to 71%, according to DMV officials. Common mistakes, such as how the child fits in the seat and how the seat fits in the vehicle, can decrease the protection a car seat provides in a crash.
Virginia law requires children under 2 to be rear-facing in their car seat. Experts and car seat manufacturers agree that they should stay rear-facing longer, though. This means that, from their first ride home until they reach the maximum height or weight listed on their seats, they should ride facing backwards.
Every seat lists the maximum height and weight it can support in the manual. Convertible or three-in-one car seats will have multiple height and weights listed, one for each stage.
Children should stay in each stage as long as possible. Some parents may be concerned about the possibility of their child breaking their legs in a crash — but experts say it’s unlikely.
“There is very little correlation with lower leg injuries because they’re touching the back of the seat,” says Child Passenger Safety Technician Eileen Gerling.
The last stage is a booster seat. Virginia law states that children have to stay in a car seat until they are 8-years-old. Gerling said many children need to stay in a booster seat longer.
“When they are developmentally ready and tall enough to move into a booster seat, they should use that as long as they can up until about 4-foot-9, in most cars.” Gerling said. “Fifty-seven inches tall is about 50% of 10-year-olds.”
According to Gerling, parents can use the 5-point test to know if their child is ready to move out of a booster:
- The child can sit all the way back in the seat with their back flat against the back of the seat.
- Their knees bend at the end of the seat with their feet flat on the ground.
- The lap belt needs to be low across their hips.
- The shoulder strap of the seat belt needs to be over the shoulder area, not the neck or their upper arm.
- Most importantly – they need to be able to stay in this position for the whole ride.
When a child is in a seat with a five-point harness, it is important that the harness is secured properly. It needs to be tight enough that if you pinch the belt at the shoulder you cannot pick up any of the belt. Additionally, the chest buckle should be level with the child’s armpits.
“Always check the vehicle manual and check the manual for the safety seat to make sure that they’re on the same page,” said Chesapeake Fire and Life Safety Educator Tobey Anne Allen. “And make sure that you always use that as your resource.”
When installing the car seat you can use the seat belt, or the Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children system. The latch system uses the steel anchors built into the car itself to secure the seat.
“Once your seat is in place you want no more than an inch of lateral movement,” Chesapeake Master Firefighter Dexter Barkley said of common instillation mistakes. “The front seat should always have space between the child safety seat and it.”
When forward-facing, even if the seat is installed with the seat belt, the top anchor should be hooked into the back of the seat. This controls how much the seat moves in the event of a crash and helps protect the child’s neck and spine.
Another common mistake, according to Allen, is not using the right belt path. Convertible and 3-in-1 car seats have two belt paths, one for rear facing, the other for forward facing. It is important when switching the seat from rear facing to forward facing to ensure you are using the correct belt path.
Booster seats do not have belt paths and can become projectiles in a crash because they are not secured to the car like other safety seats. Allen recommends leaving booster seats buckled even when a child is not in them to secure them.
“We try to recommend soft toys only in the car because anything that’s in the vehicle when the car comes to a sudden stop is going to move the same speed the vehicle was going.” Gerling said, “so if that’s a not-secured mirror or an iPad or some kind of toy, that’s gonna keep going and it could become a projectile in a crash.”
In addition, she recommends that people not use anything with the car seat that didn’t come with it “because everything that came with it was crash-tested with it.”
“So if you are adding padding, or sometimes people try to add something to keep kids from unbuckling their seats or anything like that, it can change how it performs in a crash,” Gerling said.
Even after-market products like infant headrests can be dangerous.
“Those are non-regulated products, so even if they say, ‘crash-tested,’ there’s no crash testing for those products,” Gerling said.
“If they are in a crash, you should technically leave the child in the safety seat,” Allen said. “That’s offering them head, neck, and spine protection better than when you pick them up. You don’t know what kind of injuries they have.”
Experts want parents to know that if you are in a crash, your seat will not be safe to use again. Insurance companies will replace the seat as part of your claim.
To ensure that your child’s car seat is installed correctly you can book an appointment with a certified child passenger safety technician, or CPST. To contact a CPST visit safekids.org.
The Virginia Beach Fire Department and the Chesapeake Fire Department will both check to ensure your car seat is installed correctly. Virginia Beach is by appointment only and in Chesapeake, parents can come by during regular business hours.