Action Alliance for Children is no longer creating new content for Children's Advocate and Defensor de los Niños.
We encourage the continued use and distribution of the magazine and online articles archive.
Permissions guidelines: Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International Public License.

Infant Safety Seats Protect Your Baby

February 7, 2013


Practice makes perfect. You do it like a routine and you start getting faster and better at it.

Adam Solis

A Morgan Hill father

When Campbell mom Shelly Womble was taking her kids to child care, she swerved to avoid a large piece of metal on the highway and spun around.

“I flipped once completely, then started flipping again, and the car ended up on its side,” she recalls. “I was terrified.”

But Sara, age 1, and Brennon, age 3, were safe and snug in their car seats in the back seat. Brennon only had a little scratch on one hand.

According to the National SAFE KIDS Campaign, car crashes are the leading cause of accident-related death among children. Every year, they kill around 1,800 children under 14 and injure 280,000.

California’s child safety law requires a car seat or booster seat in the back seat for children under age 8. Children who are under age 8, but who are 4 feet 9 inches or taller may be secured by a safety belt in the back seat.

Parents and health experts discuss the importance of car seats and share their tips on how to use them properly.

Infant safety seats

According to the SAFE KIDS Campaign, infant safety seats reduce the risk of an infant dying in an accident by 70 percent.

“You cannot hold on to a baby in a crash,” says Cheri Fidler, director of the Center for Healthier Communities at San Diego Children’s Hospital. “Even at very low speed, your child is going to be thrown from your arms.”

Young children are too small to be protected by a seat belt, adds Gina Manion, coordinator for the Santa Clara and San Mateo SAFE KIDS Coalition.

A pregnant woman should get a car seat “before you deliver your baby, so you have the infant seat safely installed for the ride home,” says Barbara Cheatham, coordinator of SAFE KIDS, Alameda County.

Get a car seat that fits your child’s weight and age

Children under age 12 should always ride in the back seat. Use

  • rear-facing infant safety seats for children under a year and 20 pounds;
  • forward-facing child safety seats for children between 20 and 40 pounds;
  • booster seats for children between 40 and 80 pounds – a child this size is not high enough to use the seat belt properly and could be injured or killed by an adult seat belt.

Children are not safe without a car seat until they are at least 4’9″ and weigh 80 pounds, and their feet can touch the floor, experts say.

As your children get older, you can explain to them that it’s still important to use their car seat because it makes them safer.

Get a car seat that fits your car

New car seats cost between $40 and $320, but counties offer financial assistance for low-income families through the county health department, children’s hospital, First 5 Commission, police departments or prenatal classes.

Used car seats may be fine, but “we recommend not [using] car seats more than five years old,” Manion says.

Check for a label with the model name or number and the year it was made, so you can find out if it’s been recalled, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics,.

Bring the car seat out to the car before you buy it, to see how it fits.

Install the car seat properly

Even a good car seat doesn’t work unless properly installed. Studies show that more than three-quarters of all car seats are put in wrong.

“The correctly installed safety seat is one that is held firmly in place,” Fidler says.

Follow the instructions in the car seat’s manual or at free car seat safety events — often held in both English and Spanish at police stations, shopping centers or car dealerships. You can also get a free inspection of how well you have installed the car seat at inspection sites.

Always install the car seat in the back seat of the car.

If an infant seat is in the front, Fidler says, “the force of the air bag opening [during a crash] will seriously injure or kill the infant.”

Newer cars come with “tether anchors” for strapping the top of the car seat to the car, to keep the car seat and the child’s head from being thrown forward in a crash.

Womble’s car didn’t have tether anchors, but the dealership installed them for free and only took 45 minutes.

Strap your child in-every time

When putting your child in the car seat, be sure to:

  • Put the harness straps and seat belts through the right slots.
  • Make sure the seat belt and shoulder straps are “snug enough so you can’t pinch any of the fabric,” Tombrello says. Fidler adds: “If the straps are loose, the child can wiggle out or be thrown out.”
  • Lock shoulder straps in place with a locking clip at armpit level. “If the clip goes too low, that could create an abdominal injury,” Fidler says.

Morgan Hill father Adam Solis admits it’s sometimes a hassle to strap the kids into their car seats every time he goes anywhere.

But he recalls an accident when his daughter Brittney was an infant. The driver in front of him stopped suddenly and Solis’s car crashed into it.

Brittney came out of that accident completely without a scratch. Solis says the policeman told him that Brittney was in “a perfect position,” in the middle seat in the back.

“Practice makes perfect,” Solis adds. “You do it like a routine and you start getting faster and better at it.”

Originally written by Laura Bernell.