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Parenting Center

Car Seat Safety 101

Car Seat Safety 101

Traveling with a car seat

Should I buy an airplane seat for my baby and use her car seat on the plane? YES! It is much safer a child under 2 to ride in a car seat or another appropriate safety restraint on an airplane. The American Academy of Pediatrics, the NTSB, and the FAA all recommend that kids under two ride in car seats or another appropriate restraint. Every single other item on the plane--besides children under 2--must be restrained, from your suitcase to your coffee cup. Your kids deserve the same protection as your luggage! In an aborted takeoff or landing or in severe turbulence, you will not be able to hold on to your child--the g-forces are simply too strong. Your child will also be more comfortable sleeping in her car seat than on your lap, and you'll be more comfortable too. Not to mention all the other passengers on the plane!

Should I rent a car seat at my destination or should I bring mine? Bring your own car seat. You know how to use it (hopefully!) and you know that it is appropriate for your child's age, height and weight. The rental car company may give you a seat that's been recalled or that's been in a crash or one that's missing parts, or one that's inappropriate for your child. Or they may lose your reservation entirely. Rental car companies often will not install the seats for you but also may not provide an instruction manual, which leaves you struggling with an unknown car seat and car while your family waits in the parking lot, exhausted from a day of travel.

Winter Weather:

It's too cold to walk so I've been taking taxis with my child. Do I need to use a car seat? YES! Although it is not illegal to hold your baby in a taxi, it is extremely dangerous. No one is strong enough to hold a child in the instant of a crash--the child becomes much heavier than normal and will fly forward either into the divider screen or out the windshield. Using a baby carrier (like a BabyBjorn) is also unsafe. Researchers Kathleen Weber and John Melvin of the Highway Safety Research Institute at the University of Michigan Medical School tested this scenario using a 30 mph, front, dynamic crash test like the one required by the current federal safety standard for child car seats. In the crash test, an adult wore the baby in a soft, cloth front carrier like the Baby Bjorn and used a lap/shoulder belt. The researchers found that this infant was at a very high risk. The tested carrier shredded completely, ejecting the infant dummy into the dashboard. If the carrier had not shredded, they found that the infant would likely still not have survived. As the adult's head traveled forward in the whiplash motion, the adult's chin would have slammed down into the infant's head right where the soft spot is. The solution? Since infant seats are the easiest ones to use in taxis, buy a high-weight infant seat (one with a 30+ lb weight limit) so that you can use it for as long as possible. After your baby is too big for it look at stroller/car seat combos like the Combi Coccoro car seat and Flash stroller wheels. Older kids can easily use booster seats or the Ride Safer Travel Vest.

How can I keep my baby warm in the car seat? Obviously its important to keep the baby warm, but many products marketed for use with car seats are actually UNSAFE. Make sure you buy a product that goes over the baby, not under the baby or under any of the car seat's straps. Anything that goes underneath the baby--even if it has room for the car seat straps to fit through--is not safe to use in the car (and often voids the manufacturer's warranty). Here's why: The car seat is designed to have a specific amount of fabric and padding underneath the baby. In a crash, this padding will compress but a properly tightened harness will keep the baby tight in the seat. Any additional padding that you introduce will also compress--but because the extra padding is there when you put the baby in the seat, you won't be able to get the straps as tight--which means the possibility of injury in a crash. Also, the shoulder strap slots on products that go underneath the baby may not line up with the strap slots on the car seat and end up displacing the straps off the child's shoulders, which might lead to the child coming out of the seat during a crash. Safe alternatives that go over the baby include blankets and products specifically designed to go over a car seat.

Can my baby wear a snowsuit in the car seat? It's unsafe for a baby to wear a snowsuit or heavy winter coat in a car seat. Heavy clothing puts too much padding between the child and the 5 point harness. This adds too much slack to the harness straps (you can't pull them as tightly as you would if the child wasn't wearing the heavy clothes) and could lead to the child coming out of the seat during a crash. Kids also overheat easily. You probably don't wear your winter coat in the car! Put a blanket over the child and after the car warms up, pull the blanket off.

And our most popular question...

What is the best car seat?The best car seat is the one that fits securely in your vehicle, that fits your child, and that you will use correctly every single time. This varies depending on your vehicle's make, model and year, your child's age, height and weight, and how you plan to use the car seat (i.e. plane travel, taxis, long walks, long drives, etc).

Email us at info@thecarseatlady.com and we'd be happy to talk about this and/or any other car seat related topics!

– Debbi Baer, R.N, Alisa Baer, M.D. and Emily Levine are the Car Seat Ladies. Both Debbi and Alisa are certified instructors for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s 32-hour car seat course and Emily is certified as a Child Passenger Safety Technician. Their Website thecarseatlady.com provides up to date information about everything you need to know about car seats including booster seats and the LATCH system. They also provide private car seat installation lessons. Contact them at info@thecarseatlady.com.