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Are You Using Your Child’s Car Seat Incorrectly?

When used effectively, a car seat can reduce the risk of fatal injury to a child by up to 71 percent. Unfortunately, a federal study has found that the majority of car seats are being used improperly, hampering their ability to protect children in the event of a crash.

A 2016 report by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) revealed that up to 59 percent of car seats were installed or used improperly.  While some of the errors cited in the study were minor, around 35 percent of the mistakes were determined to be gross misuse, meaning the child would not get any protection for their car seat system.

Experts recommend the following tips for getting the most protection from your child’s car seat.

1. Keep Kids Rear-Facing As Long As Possible

The majority of states only require that a child sit in a rear-facing car seat until the age of 1; however, with the arrival of new research, that recommendation is quickly changing. Nine states have already passed legislation requiring children be placed in rear-facing car seats until the age of 2, and New York will become the tenth state with such requirements next year.

Even if your state has not made the change, it is recommended that you keep your child rear-facing as long as possible. Instead of focusing on age, focus on weight and height. NHTSA and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) say you should keep your child rear-facing until they have reached the height or weight limits of their car seat.

2. Don’t Overlook Expiration Dates

It may come as a surprise, but car seats do have expiration dates. Plastic and harness materials deteriorate over time. Exposure to UV rays, heat, cold, and regular wear and tear takes a toll on a car seat, and the parts of the car seat can begin to break down. Such deterioration can reduce the car seat’s ability to withstand an impact.

The good news is a new car seat’s expiration date is well beyond what a single child may need. However, when it comes to second and third children, this becomes much more of an issue.

Generally, a convertible car seat will have a 10-year life span and infant car seats will have a six-year life span. Also keep in mind that as technology advances, older car seats may loose compatibility with newer vehicles or fail to meet new safety standards.

3. Do Not Re-Use a Car Seat After a Crash

Any car seat that has been involved in a moderate or serious accident should be discarded. The impact of a moderate or serious collision can damage the car seat and weaken its future appearance.

NHTSA says that a car seat may be kept and used if it was involved in a minor collision in which:

  • You were able to drive your car away from the crash site.
  • The airbags did not deploy.
  • The door nearest to the car seat was not damaged.
  • There were no injuries to passengers.
  • There is no visible damage to the car seat.

4. Use the Top Tether

With few exceptions, all forward-facing car seats have a top tether strap that connects the top of the car seat to an additional tether point. The tether is meant to reduce how far forward the child and seat can move during a collision, but many parents forget to use this vital component when installing their car seat.

The top tether can reduce the amount a child pitches forward by up to six inches, thereby reducing the risk of a child’s head coming in contact with the back of a front seat during a crash.

5. Fill Out the Car Seat’s Registration Card

Car seat recalls are not uncommon. In fact, in 2014 a total of six million child car seats were recalled in the U.S. Perhaps more alarming is the fact that fewer than half of the car seats were returned or fixed.

By completing the registration car that comes with your car seat, you are ensuring that the manufacturer will notify you of a recall similar to the way automakers inform drivers of vehicle recalls. You can also check for recalls by visiting the NHTSA website.

6. Read Your Car Seat’s Manual

When it comes to car seats, “trial and error” and “winging it” are not viable options. Read your car seat’s manual for instructions on installation, use, and maintenance. Not only will the manual detail different installation options, it will tell you who to properly disassemble and clean your car seat and when you should move your child to forward-facing or booster seat options.

Contact an Experienced Car Seat Failure Attorney

Thomas J. Henry Injury Attorneys are experienced in defective child car seats and recalls. Your choice does matter. If your child has suffered because of a defective car seat, contact Thomas J. Henry Injury Attorneys immediately. We are available 24/7, nights and weekends.

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