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How Safe Is Your Car Seat? It May Depend on Your Car

Researchers found that child safety seats are not compatible with vehicle seats nearly half of the time.

Boy sleeping in car seat Konstantin Sutyagin/Shutterstock
We already know that car seats can be difficult to install properly. But new research released this month is shedding better light on the cause of the struggle.

A great deal of child safety seats are not compatible with the size and shape of vehicles seats, found a new study published in Traffic Injury Prevention.

Researchers from The Ohio State University College of Medicine tested 59 car seats and 61 vehicles (a total of 3,600 combinations) and concluded that seat angles and headrests caused improper fits 42 percent of the time. Specifically, forward-facing car seats didn't meet up with the car's headrests in more than half (66 percent) of the combinations.

Compatibility issues can potentially cause an unsuitable position and increase children's risk of injury, stated a press release on the research. This risk is heightened even more if parents use certain objects, like towels, to help a car seat fit better.

The takeaway? Just because a car seat has passed federal safety regulations and looks secure-as-can-be on paper doesn't mean it's the right one for you. In order to optimize the safety of the car seat and provide the best protection for your child, make sure it fits properly in your vehicle before purchasing.

"We want to encourage parents to take measurements of their car in order to make the most informed decision when choosing the safest car seat option for their child," said study author Julie Bing, a research engineer at Ohio State College of Medicine's Injury Biomechanics Research Center. "We recommend parents go to the store and ask if they can take the model off the shelf and go out to their car and try it. It might look great on the shelf and have all the greatest safety ratings, but if it doesn't fit in your vehicle, it may not be the best option for you."

Caitlin St John is an Editorial Assistant for Parents.com who splits her time between New York City and her hometown on Long Island. Follow her on Twitter: @CAITYstjohn.

How to Install a Car Seat