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The Informed Parent

Car Seats: Essential Information, Part 2

by Shanna R. Cox, M.D., F.A.A.P.
Published on Jun. 21, 2004
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In the previous article, we discussed the different types of car seats and their various qualities. Now that we have identified the types of car seats available and for which child a particular seat is appropriate, let’s move on to discussing how to get the most out of your purchase.

Parents always want the best for their child. There is not a “best” car seat that would unanimously be recommended by every physician or safety agency. However, there are some criteria to follow in order to ensure that one is best for your child. First, in general, a new car seat with a five-point safety harness is preferred. If this is not possible, the parent must ensure that the used seat has not been involved in any previous automobile accident. In particular, there should be no cracks in any section of the seat, nor should it be missing any parts. There should be a model and serial number visible to identify the seat. Ones older that 5-10 years should not be used. Also, make sure to ask for the instructions for the car seat in order for it to be properly installed.

To ensure proper installation read both your car and seat manufacturer instructions. Cars manufactured after 2002 come with a LATCH system (lower anchor and tether for children). If your child is not more than one year of age and twenty pounds in weight the seat should be placed in a rear facing position. If these criteria have been met a forward facing position is appropriate. Use the seat belt through the lower path of the seat or lower anchor system and pull it tight. With the strap attached the seat should not be able to be moved forward or sideways more than an inch. Make sure that the seat belt is in a locked position and cannot move once adjusted. This may be a standard feature of the car or may be accomplished with a locking clip. A tether attaches the top of the car seat to an anchor in the vehicle that is usually toward the rear window of the car. These prevent the seat or a child’s head from being thrown forward in the event of an accident.

Airbag systems meant for passenger protection can have the reverse effect for children. They are particularly dangerous for infants in a rear facing position or for youngsters whose size is not appropriate for the air bag disbursement. Children should ride in the backseat whenever possible for their safety. Even adults under the height of five feet four inches can be at risk during air bag deflation. If a child must be placed in the front seat it should be adjusted as far toward the back as possible. Children should be kept secure with a full harness system as long as possible. They are ready for a regular seat belt system when the shoulder belt can comfortably lie over the chest, not across the neck area, and the lap belt fits over the hips. To assure this fit, use a booster seat if necessary even if your child is over six years and sixty pounds.

Children should be placed in their respective car seat during air travel as well. Check the manufacturer statement to assure the seat you purchase is certified for car as well as air travel.

There are several resources parents can access to help insure that their child’s car seat is set up for safety. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration provides lists of inspection stations and certified child passenger safety technicians by state and zip code. This information can be accessed via the web or telephone. Periodically local agencies such as police stations and community centers will sponsor car seat inspection fairs. Know the essentials of your child’s safety seat...it could save his life!




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