Q: I'm worried about whether my infant car seat is installed correctly. How can I find out?
A: You're right to be concerned. Research shows that about 85% of car seats aren't installed correctly, according to Gary Smith, M.D., director of the Center for Injury Research and Policy at Children's Hospital in Columbus, OH, and chair of the American Academy of Pediatrics' Committee on Injury, Violence, and Poison Prevention.
Dr. Smith says one of the most common problems is seats that don't fit snugly in the vehicle. It shouldn't be able to move back and forth or side to side more than one inch in any direction. Other common mistakes include harnesses that are too loose or are twisted, chest clips that ride too low (they should be at the level of a child's armpit), and forward-facing car seats. Your baby should ride rear-facing in the back seat until he's 1 year old and weighs 20 pounds. Even the new LATCH system (lower anchors and tethers for children) isn't foolproof. Found in most cars made after September 2002, the LATCH system was designed to make installation easier without the use of seat belts, but according to Dr. Smith, it still isn't compatible with certain vehicles. To address installation questions, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration Web site (www.nhtsa.dot.gov) includes a state-by-state listing of child safety-seat inspection stations. Technicians there will check your car seat at no cost to make sure it's properly installed.