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When I was a new mom, I read every article about car seat safety I could get my hands on. Still, I was terrified of installing my kids’ car seats, because I didn’t trust myself to do it correctly. A few years ago, that fear inspired me to become a certified Child Passenger Safety Technician, and to learn as much as I could about keeping kids safe while on the road. There are so many myths out there when it comes to car seat safety, and I wanted to bust a few of them for you and to inspire you to learn more and become an expert on your own child’s car seat.
Myth #1 You have to buy an expensive seat to keep your kid safe.
All legally sold car seats in the US have to meet the same crash test standards. Both expensive seats and bargain seats are safe. More expensive seats often have additional features that make the seats easier to clean, use, or install – but that doesn’t make a cheaper seat less safe.
Myth #2 Newborn babies need to start with an infant seat.
Unless your baby is 4 lbs or less, you can most likely find a convertible car seat (one that switches from rear facing to forward facing when the child is ready) that can fit your child from birth. There isn’t a single state that requires you to start with an infant seat. So if money is tight, I’d suggest putting more money towards a convertible that will last you much longer.
Myth #3 Infant seats are best because you don’t have to move a sleeping baby.
Not necessarily. While an infant seat (also called a bucket seat or RFO for rear facing only) can be transferred from your car to a stroller easily, it’s not meant to be used as a general seat or crib replacement. Outside of the car, the recline angle cannot be regulated. This can inhibit your baby’s airways and cause breathing problems. Similarly, car seats do not belong on top of shopping carts. They do not actually attach to the seat, and can cause damage to the car seat that can prevent it from working properly in the base. They also make the cart top heavy and falls from that height can be extremely devastating. If you don’t want to put the infant seat in the basket, babywearing is the way to go.
Myth #4 Kids should switch to Forward Facing when they hit 1 or 2 years of age.
While this used to be taught, we now know that rear facing is 5 times safer – because it helps protect and support the child’s head, neck and spine. The American Academy of Pediatrics now recommends that all children sit rear facing until AT LEAST 2, and after that as long as they are within the rear facing height and weight limits of their car seats.
Myth #5 Rear facing kids must be uncomfortable.
Not true. At a certain point your child’s legs will become longer than the car seat. That’s no reason to turn them around! Their legs can dangle to one side, be propped up on the seat back, or be crossed. Their joints are much more flexible than an adult’s, which is why you so often find toddlers who can nap comfortably in the strangest positions.
Myth #6 LATCH installations are safer than seat belt installations.
LATCH (which stands for Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children) is a system that was developed to make it easier for care givers to correctly install car seats. Unfortunately, even with LATCH, many car seats are installed incorrectly. And LATCH has its limits – after a certain weight limit the car seat manufacturer may require you to switch to a seat belt installation. Make sure to check your car seat manual and your vehicle manual to see what limits both set. If they are different, use whichever one is lowest.
Myth #7 The safest place for a car seat is in the middle seat.
The safest place for the seat is the place where you can install it correctly, every time. If you feel like you get the best install with LATCH, make sure you are using a seating position designated for lower anchor use. Unless stated differently in your vehicle manual AND your car seat manual, you may not “borrow” a lower anchor from the left and right seat to install, so you would install with a seatbelt. Also, if you have more than one child in a car seat it may make sense to put the oldest child in the middle, since they can climb in themselves.
Myth #8 Expiration dates don’t really matter.
Expiration dates are important. We put our car seats through a lot – harsh temperatures, spit up, potty accidents – and over time the materials begin to degrade. It’s important to follow expiration dates, you don’t want to take chances when it comes to your child’s safety.
Myth #9 Any police officer or firefighter is certified to check your car seat installation.
Not every firefighter or police officer is certified as a Child Passenger Safety Technician (CPST). In fact, many aren’t. The training to become a CPST and the time commitment to maintain that certification is substantial, so in many places the majority of CPSTs are volunteers. What does that mean for you? Well, you can’t just go to the fire station to have your installation checked. In most cases you will have to make an appointment to go to a regular “fitting station”. To find a CPST or a fitting station near you, check out safekids.org.
Myth #10 Following the law is the best way to keep your baby safe in the car.
Laws vary from state to state, and in some states car seat laws have not been updated for decades. Remember that in a crash, between the laws of the state and the laws of physics, the laws of physics will always win. In Idaho the law dealing with car seats was last revised in 1988. Let that sink in for a moment. Think of the law as the bare minimum. Your kids deserve much better than the bare minimum. The gold star of safety is following the industry best practices set forth by Safe Kids and NHSTA.
Is car seat compatibility one of your top concerns when shopping for a new car? Check out “car seat check” from Cars.com!