Follow these simple steps so you can help ensure that the backseat offers five-star protection for your precious cargo.
Ready, Set, Purge!
We all have a few empty water bottles rolling around our car floors. But consider this: “If a car is going 60 miles per hour and suddenly stops, everything that’s not secured is still moving at 60 mph,” says Ben Hoffman, M.D., chair of the American Academy of Pediatric’s (AAP) Counsel for Injury, Violence, and Poison Prevention. Cell phones, uninstalled baby mirrors, and even diaper bags could harm passengers. Store items like those, as well as any sharp objects, in a console or the trunk. If you’re in an SUV, use the cargo net to properly secure larger objects. And don’t forget to toss trash.
Use the Right Seat
They should give a degree in child-car-seat management, right? It’s tricky stuff, and nearly three-quarters of parents place their kid in a forward-facing seat before it’s recommended, found a University of Michigan study. Crash-based research shows us that keeping kids rear-facing until age 2 is five times safer than having them forward-facing earlier.
Use these guidelines from the AAP (and pass them along to your mom crew): A child should ride in a rear-facing car seat from birth until at least age 2 (or once she hits the height and weight limit found on the car-seat label); a forward-facing car seat with a harness until she can no longer fit in it; and a booster seat until she reaches 4’9”. To help plan and ensure safe car-seat transitions, work with your pediatrician to understand where your kid falls on the growth curve.
Pick the Best Spot
We think that the middle seat is safest because it’s farthest from any potential side impact, but the reality is less clear-cut—especially with two car seats. An outer seat can be a safe alternative to the middle one, as long as your child is secured properly. If you use a seat belt, make sure that it’s in locked mode (refer to your owner’s manual to find out how). But before you decide on a location, you should also check the manual to ensure that the seat you prefer is capable of holding a car seat.
Know When to Upgrade
You can put off repairing a cracked smartphone screen, but a car seat with frayed straps, warped plastic, or torn webbing must be replaced pronto. The same goes for a recalled car seat (visit nhtsa.dot.gov for a full list). You’ll also need a new seat if you’re in an accident in which the air bag deploys, the car can’t be driven away, or someone leaves the scene in an ambulance. If you’re still unsure whether a seat is safe, call the car-seat company to talk through your situation.
We know it’s tempting to buy a used car seat, but it’s not advisable. “You don’t know if all the parts are there, it was in a crash, or stored in a damp basement,” says Lorrie Walker, training technical advisor at Safe Kids Worldwide. Older seats don’t have updated safety tech, like side-impact protection or harnesses that adjust with one pull. But they do still come with an expiration date. If you can’t tell when the seat expires because the label peeled off, don’t buy or use it. That’s not to say you can’t snag the one your sis is generously offering—just be sure that you’re positive of its history.