Being pregnant or the parent of a newborn child can be a stressful experience. Proper car restraint use should be one thing that puts your mind at ease, not another cause for concern. After all, seats belts have been found to reduce traffic fatalities of front-seat passengers by 45%, while car seats can reduce fatal injury to infants in passenger cars by 71-82%.
And yet, it’s all too common for seat belts to be misused during pregnancy and car seats to be installed incorrectly. This eliminates all the safety benefits of the restraints and may even cause more harm than good.
To ensure your safety and that of your newborn, follow these recommendations from AAA’s safety experts.
Car Safety During Pregnancy
Whether driving or riding in a car, seat belts should always be worn through every stage of pregnancy. Here are some helpful tips to keep in mind whenever in the car.
- Wear your seat belt. No matter what stage you are in pregnancy, it is important to buckle up every time you get in the car.
- Buckle up correctly. The lap belt should go under your belly and fit securely across your hips. The shoulder belt should be across your shoulder and away from your neck. The seat belt height adjuster can be moved up or down for a better fit.
- If you are driving … Keep your belly away from the steering wheel as far as possible, while still comfortably reaching the pedals. Also ensure the seat is adjusted so you can see well and can sit up right.
- Keep the airbags on. Airbags help keep you and the baby safe in the event of a crash. Seat belts and airbags work together to minimize the impact of the crash.
- If you are in a crash … It is important to seek care immediately even if you think you are not injured.
Shopping for a Car Seat
One of the biggest stressors for new parents is purchasing and installing a car seat for your new addition. Do your research, but don’t agonize over your choice. Every seat on the market is crash tested to meet the same federal safety standards. If used properly, they will protect your child in the event of a collision.
No matter your budget, all car seats (purchased new) are guaranteed to protect your most precious cargo. A more expensive seat may have enhanced comfort and cosmetic features, but the best car seat is one that will be installed and used correctly every time. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration offers ease-of-use ratings and a car seat finder tool to help you shop.
Types of Car Seats
The most common seat that new parents will use is a rear-facing only infant seat. These seats can only be installed in the rear-facing position, and typically accommodate a child up to 30-35 pounds.
Once the child has outgrown their infant seat by length or weight, a convertible car seat installed rear-facing is the next step. A convertible style car seat can be installed front or rear-facing to accommodate the needs of your growing child. Children should not be turned forward facing until they are a minimum of two years of age. Parents should use a convertible car seat in the rear facing position until their child reaches the weight/height limit allowed by the seat’s manufacturer (a sticker on the side of the seat will indicate these limits).
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends children ride rear-facing until at least 2 years old and 30 pounds. The NHTSA recommends that all children remain rear-facing as long as possible given the height and weight requirements of the seat.
Parents should be aware of the child passenger safety in regard to their state’s law, which may also mandate how long children must remain rear-facing in their convertible seat before riding in the forward-facing position. Most convertible seats can be used in the rear-facing position with children up to 40-50 pounds.
Car Seat Installation Help
When used per manufacturers’ instructions for installation and harnessing, car seats protect your child from injury in a collision. But only if they’re used properly.
Don’t be discouraged if you think something doesn’t look right. The Center for Disease Control reports 59% of car seats are installed or used incorrectly. Make things easier by always reading your car seat manual and checking if the manufacturer provides video instructions for installation.
When in doubt, talk to a Child Passenger Safety Technician. A CPST is trained not only to install your car seat, but to teach you how to do it for yourself. The greatest tool a technician can give a family is the knowledge of how to install and use their car seat correctly every time. CPSTs also relay important safety information such as manufacturer recalls that families might otherwise be unaware of.
Harness covers, plush padding and other after-market products might be tempting to add to baby seats, but unless the additional accoutrements were crash tested, there is no guarantee they won’t affect the function of the seat in the event of a collision. The same goes for mirrors and sunshades. At high speeds, these objects may dislodge and become dangerous projectiles that can injure your child or other occupants in the vehicle.
Registering a Car Seat
Register your car seat by filling in and sending in the postmarked card attached with your seat or go to the manufacturer’s website to register your seat virtually. If you do not register your car seat, you may miss important recall information from the manufacturer that could impact the safety of your child.
Used Car Seats
You can use a hand-me-down car seat, depending on the circumstance. A used seat is an acceptable choice if it meets the following criteria:
- You know the history of the seat (it comes from a trusted source).
- It hasn’t been involved in a collision.
- Shows no signs of damage to the frame or harness.
- Is not expired or recalled.
Most child passenger safety experts agree that used car seats should not be purchased. Because you cannot guarantee the history of the seat, you also cannot guarantee that it is safe. If you get a hand-me-down seat from a trusted source and it meets the above criteria, it is safe for use. If you have questions about a used car seat, consult a child passenger safety technician for guidance.
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