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Saturday, September 17, 2011

Car Seat Use and Safety

(A note before continuing: Car seat law vary greatly between countries and even states. I can only attest to the requirements of The United States - specifically here in Utah. If you're in another state or, especially, another country, PLEASE check the laws and regulations regarding the use of car seats. And if something I say isn't correct, is misleading, or causes question, PLEASE let me know. I'm no expert! I don't want to mislead anyone out there. I want all of our little ones to be safe and sound!! I also won't be making any specific car seat recommendations. But I will provide trustworthy sources where you can find recommendations.)

Besides providing shelter, food, and a safe environment, one of the most important things we can do for our children is to obtain and correctly use a car seat. At least in my opinion it is! There are a lot of people out there (especially those in my parent's generation and before) that don't quite "get it" when it comes to car seats. Believe me, I've had to listen to all the arguments against car seats!


My father-in-law especially doesn't care for them. When Andyroo was about 6 months old, we were visiting my in-laws and ended up taking a 2 hour car ride (both ways - 4+ total) with Andyroo's grandparents. Andyroo has a cousin just a few weeks younger than him and their little family was there too. So after a whole day of 2 babies who were DONE with car seats, we spent almost 2 hours on the ride home discussing why car seats are or aren't necessary. Longest car ride ever! And, you know, I really can't blame the people who don't get why. I mean, for most of my childhood, I didn't ride in a car seat. My mom said they brought me home in a little bassinet that just sat on the seat - no buckle or straps. I survived without a car seat. So did my sisters and millions of other babies before us. And, as was pointed out during that crazy car ride, who is the government to tell me that I have to buy an expensive piece of plastic for my baby? Am I really so fearful of being pulled over and given a ticket (or worse) that I'm going to keep my child strapped in "unnecessarily"?

It isn't the government that makes me afraid. It isn't being pulled over that scares me. It isn't that I like seeing my child crying to get out or getting agitated because he's tired of sitting in the car seat. I keep my child strapped in a car seat (while we're in the car, of course) because I love him. I want him to be with us for as long as he can be. I've seen the evidence that car seats keep children safe. I've heard the stories of children who weren't properly restrained and were thrown through the windows of cars and died. I don't want that to be my child! I love him and I'll do whatever I need to in order to keep him safe. If that means a car seat, then so be it! Compared to 25 years ago when I was a baby, there are more cars on the road, more distractions (for yourself and other drivers), and cars driving at faster speeds. It just makes sense that our children need more protection.

The reason this is on my mind is because Andyroo is quickly outgrowing his current car seat - and it's time to search for a new one. I thought that it might be useful to other parents out there to share some of my research and information.

Use Your Car seat Correctly
The first thing that I want to say is that no matter which car seat you purchase (whether is a $40 Cosco Scenera or a $200+ Britax), the most important thing is that it is installed and used correctly every single time!! It doesn't matter what you use, just use one and do it correctly. If you have any questions about whether your seat is installed properly or about how to use it, there are certified car seat technicians available to help and answer your questions.

If you need installation help, please use the following information to find someone to help you. (And don't freak out, the CPS acronym means "Child Passenger Safety," not the feared Child Protection Service)
If you have questions or need help installing your car safety seat, find a certified CPS technician.
Lists of certified CPS technicians and child seat fitting stations are available on the following Web sites:
  • NHTSA (or call NHTSA Vehicle Safety Hotline at 888/327-4236)
  • SeatCheck (or call 866/SEATCHECK [866/732-8243])
(Above information found at this link
I also know that here in our town, about 2 or 3 times a year, I'll hear about Car seat Check stations that are being set up so that, if a parent/guardian chooses, they can have someone inspect and check their seat.

Extended Rear-Facing
You should also know that the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has changed their recommendation for car seats for children under 2. You can find more information here, but in a nutshell, the AAP

Car seat Recommendations
As I said, I won't be giving any specific car seat recommendations. I only know the ones I've used - the Graco SafeSeat and the Cosco Scenera. At each new car seat, I've done some research about the current seats on the market and the current recommendations. The car seat that works best for you is based on a few things - your child (height, weight, age, and growth rate), your car, your budget, and your needs. In our situation, we could have eliminated the infant car seat, but I liked the option of removing the car seat from the base and being able to transport the baby wherever. I wasn't too hip on the carriers at the time, but you could use a convertible car seat from the start and just plan to use a stroller or carrier at all times. When we bought our Scenera, money was really, really tight. Even spending the $40 was really pushing our budget. It's a no-frills car seat that served it's purpose. It's what we needed at the time. We knew we would have to buy another (or possibly two) car seats in the future, but it's what we could afford. It served it's purpose. It was installed correctly and used properly and I know, had we ever been in an accident, it would have done it's job and kept my son safe.

There are forums out there where you can get specific car seat recommendations. I haven't specifically asked the people on the message boards for a specific recommendation, but I peruse the boards and can often find someone in a similar situation and work from those recommendations. The two forums that I've found the most helpful are:

The Car Seat Message Board on iVillage - You do need to be a member of iVillage to post, but membership is free. They also have lots of other parents articles and forums that you can join!

Car Seat Forum on Car-Safety.Org - Again, you have to be registered to post in this forum.

There are many knowledgeable people that can answer your questions there. They both have CPSTs on the board to help you. If you're looking for reviews about a specific car seat, you might considering checking out sources like:
  • ConsumerReports.org - Your local library probably has hard copies of the magazines in which the reviews are published, then you don't have to pay to read specific reviews
  • ConsumerSearch.org - Much like Consumer Reports, but you don't have to pay for specific reviews and information
  • Viewpoints.com - This is solely based on what consumers have to say. All of the reviews are submitted directly by consumers. Great for getting firsthand opinions about everyday use.
  • CarSeatReview.org - Kind of like a blog format. Lots of good firsthand experience and reviews
  • The Baby Bargains Book - I picked up this book soon after I found out I was pregnant. I can't attest to the most current edition, but the one I used had lots of reviews for car seats. You could also check out the website associated with the book.
  • Friends and Family! Word of mouth is great. They may not all be Certified Technicians, but they've used car seats too. Your best bet is to talk with newer mothers - ones that are still buying car seats. They're probably more in the loop with current car seats and information.

Using car seats that are used, expired, or have been in an accident
I've seen a lot of posts on sites like Craigslist and Freecycle offering or selling their old car seats. In my opinion, it's not something I would ever do. I might consider borrowing someone else's car seat if I knew them well enough to know it had never been in an accident. Why not use a car seat that's been in an accident? Even at slow speeds, there could be damage done to the frame of the car seat - damage that you can't see. Most insurance companies will cover the cost of a replacement car seat if you've been in an accident. The other reason I wouldn't purchase a used car seat - most car seats are only good for approximately 6 years. They do actually expired. After so long of being subject to heat and cold and dust and everything else, the plastic starts to wear down, belts could come loose, etc. You just can't always see or know what's going on with the car seat.

Curious if your seat has expired or when it will expire? Most car seats have a sticker on them with the manufacture date and the expiration date. If it isn't there, consult your owner's manual. Don't have the manual anymore? Go to the manufacturer's website and find the manual online.

Are you using a car seat that you know has been in an accident? Talk with your insurance agent to see if it qualifies for replacement!

Also, don't use any aftermarket parts that don't originally come with your car seat. By that I mean any additional headrests or strap covers. Their use hasn't been approved by the manufacturer and could alter the ability of your car seat to protect your child in an accident. Using them could also void the warranty that comes with your car seat. Blankets and other covers are fine but anything that comes between your child and the belt or the carseat (besides their clothing) shouldn't be used.

Other options for purchasing a car seat
Car seats are expensive. There's not denying that. There are affordable options out there though. Like I mentioned earlier the Cosco Scenera is about $40 and can be used for children 5-40lbs. If you can afford that, check with your local agencies. Some WIC (Women, Infants, & Children) offices can either provide or cheaply sell car seats. If they don't do it through their office, they could definitely point you in the right direction. You could also talk to your pediatrician to see if he or she knows of any local resources for cheap car seats. You won't be getting a Britax or Diono, but you'll be getting a safe seat for your child to use.

Some other resources
It can be daunting to try and narrow it down to the right car seat. It can be overwhelming to figure out what kind of car seat you should be buying next - Convertible, High Back Booster, Belt Positioning Booster, etc. I've found a few resources that you might find helpful.

HealthyChildren.org - This specifically links to some great, basic information about the different kinds of car seats available and provides some great resources on using car seats correctly.

Car-Seat.org - This links you directly to the FAQ section of their website which has a lot of great information on car seat usage and installation.

I hope you've found something in here that was useful to you. If you still have questions or if I didn't go over something well enough, then please feel free to ask. And I know that car seats can cause a little bit of a debate (especially with the new AAP recommendations and the whole front-facing vs. rear-facing thing) and while I don't mind discussion, I don't want this post to become the source of intense debate or anything of the sort.

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