I was trying to figure out something to post on here this week, but a certain person in our lives insisted on inserting some drama into it that veered me off the path and I forgot about Child Passenger Safety Week! Child Passenger Safety, or in most circles, the use of car seats/boosters, is a passion I have, which may seem odd. Why is it a passion? It became one when I learned that cars were and are the #1 killer of our kids. More than drowning, falling, any medical disease, burning, all the things we protect them from cars are the most likely taker. And yet with that kind of impact, over 80%, some estimates put it over 90% but the 80% is well documented, are used WRONG. That’s right, either installed wrong, used wrong, wrong seat for the child’s height, weight, or age, missing pieces, expired, incompatible with the vehicle sometimes people get really creative in their version of ‘wrong’ like the guy who bolted plywood to his back seat and then bolted the car seat to it. True story. Or the fireman who thought if one seatbelt was good 3 should be awesome and therefore installed a mom’s seat with all 3 belts at the same time. LOL I love his enthusiasm.
My purpose isn’t to shame, I did stuff wrong, too. Namely, I realized I was using a seat that had been expired for several years, it had been another family member’s. So I bought another one and my son quickly outgrew it in a matter of months. I’d spent $150 on that seat, had not planned to need to replace it so I desperately researched.
This is the seat I bought him first (well, actually the first seat was an infant carrier that was a total waste of $60 because he outgrew it at 4 months!) Note the ears creeping over the back of the seat:
I discovered the only seats my 33lbs 2 1/2 year old fit in were $300+ and posted to craigslist asking for a used Britax seat, the most common of the options. Luckily a local woman who was passionate about CPS already emailed me and said getting a used seat wasn’t a good option. She linked me to car-seat.org, my home away from home for the last 8 years, and put me in touch with a charity, the Kyle David Miller Foundation, which at the time was on a mission to provide higher weight harness (HWH) seats to families that couldn’t afford them but had kids that needed them. They put me on the waiting list and told me it could be up to 6 months. Another blessing came in the form of a CPST nurse at our children’s hospital who gave me one of her training seats, a Britax Marathon. Having never used a higher end seat, I fell in love with it pretty quickly. The ease of use! And it fit my big kid. ❤ As luck would have it is was also a really sought after cute paw print cover.
A couple months later the Kyle David Miller Foundation sent a Sunshine Kids Radian to a tech who then brought it to us. She fought it in the backseat of my ’99 Honda Civic EX Coupe, and sadly, she lost. It was 100 degrees out that day, I felt bad. So they had her take it to another family, and they sent her back to us with a Britax Regent, known as the king of car seats at the time. This thing went to 80lbs harnessed and was a beast. A throne! Here he is minutes after she installed it. Check out all the space above his head! He was a 3 year old in the 95% for height and weight by then and yet he still had years left in it! It fit an average 8 year old in the harness. And it was very easy to use, although heavy.
A while later I was able to save up and get him the next seat he’d need, one that would turn into a booster. Again we needed tall with high weight limits, so he got a Britax Frontier, and later I traded that up for a Britax Frontier85. Loved those seats. They were heavy, but fit him well, and were very solid and pretty easy to use. I just now got rid of those after realizing I have no one to sit in them anymore!
So that’s how I got passionate about it. I wasn’t totally ignorant on the subject, but someone pulled me aside and shared some important info. Once I realized the danger involved I learned all I could. Which led to me wanting to help other parents who I figured knew the little I knew, too. So I became certified a few years ago and run an inspection station through our church where the state also provides some seats to give to eligible families who cannot otherwise afford them. It’s a blessing to me to be able to give back to the community that way. 🙂 But…I’ll be honest, my own check seats prove that about 90% of the seats I see are used wrong somehow. And the parents are usually surprised.
Biggest things I can share follow:
1)pick the right seat for age/height/weight, age being the first really important factor. Stages:
–Rear facing, newborns start in a rear facing seat, contrary to popular belief this does NOT have to be an infant carrier with a handle. We started this baby in a Combi Coccoro, convertible seat instead. KEEP the kids rear facing until you literally have to turn them forward because they’ve outgrown a rear facing convertible, most of which now rear face to at least 40lbs. Then…–Forward facing in a 5 point harness, either in a convertible car seat or a combination seat (convertible goes rear and forward, combo goes forward and then booster). Keep them this way until at least 5 years old, and then train them how to sit still and upright in a booster seat.
–Booster: minimum 5 years, 40lbs, though a lot of kids aren’t ready until about 6 years old. Then use the booster until the child passes the 5 step test: 1. child sit all the way at the back of the seat?
2. knees bent comfortable at vehicle seat edge?
3. shoulder belt across shoulder, not neck?
4. lap belt rides low across the thighs, not belly?
5. can stay seated this way for the whole ride, every time?
And is at least 8-10 years old, at least 80lbs, and at least 4’9″ tall. Seatbelts in cars were made for 150lbs adults, not kids.
2) Next is never ever ever buy a used seat of unknown history. Seats expire. And lots of people do things to compromise the safety of a seat, like wash the harness straps in a washing machine, or check or gate check it on an airplane. Or drop it. All no-nos. There are budget seats out there that will work in a lot of situations, if you need help, ask me or find a tech, we’re happy to answer questions about what seat to get for your budget, vehicle, and child.
3) Britax does not a magic bubble make. 🙂 All seats are equally safe as far as we’re told, they only receive a pass/fail from the tests and precious few release the actual results. What makes a difference is how easy is to use. The easier it is the more likely you are to use it right! We techs have a saying, too, RTFM! roughly translated it’s, ahem, read the freaking manual. They come with manuals for a reason. They really do need one.
4) LATCH is not the be all end all it was supposed to be, seatbelts are just as safe and frankly usually easier to use. Just don’t use LATCH and seatbelt at the same time.
5) Don’t use coats in car seats. Or Bundle Mes. Or after market pads, inserts, nothing that goes between kid and seat. Basically the word aftermarket is ugly. The Mighty Tight falls into this range. We’ve seen it shred seatbelts. That’s certainly not doing anyone a favor.
Those are my big ones! Here’s some extra ones:
1) NEVER put an infant carrier seat on the top of a shopping cart. Neither the cart nor the seat were made for this. It’s a dangerous duo.
2) Don’t leave an infant in the infant carrier seat. It’s a CAR seat and should only be used in the car or atop the stroller. Too much time in the seat is unhealthy. If you’re worried about the temptation like I was, skip the carrier and get a convertible. It’ll save you money in the long run, too.
3) Not car seat related, but no one should ever sit in a lap belt. There’s a reason they don’t make them anymore. In particular, never use a booster with a lap belt only. The only thing lap belts are good for are installing car seats.
I think that’s it for now. There’s lots of nitty gritty stuff, but these are some good basics. Please ask questions if you need to! For good measure here’s my newest little one in the Combi Coccoro, proof tiny babies (he was 6lbs 9oz) CAN indeed use convertible car seats from birth (please note we were not getting ready to drive and I had not tightened the harness yet, it’s too loose at the thighs!):