As if new parents don’t have enough to worry about, figuring out how to install the car seat is just another thing on the list. But after you’ve taken the time to find the right car seat for your baby, don’t neglect this important step.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reports that three out of four car seats are not properly installed. Car seats can greatly reduce risk of injury or death, but only if used as designed.
Among the top mistakes made with infant car seats are a bad fit on the harness and loose installation.
Fitting the Harness
Follow these three tips for the harness:
- Use the right harness slot – This step can worked on in your living room before you install the car seat. Follow the directions for your car seat, but most rear-facing seats will have you position the shoulder strap at or below the shoulder. It’s a common mistake to have these positions too high or too low. Experts know from crash test research where the straps should go for maximum protection and to avoid having the straps press into soft fleshy areas.
- Correct positioning of the harness clip – The harness clip should be positioned over the chest, at about armpit level, not over the abdomen.
- Make it a snug fit – Parents often allow too much slack in the harness. After you click the baby in and raise the clip to the right position, there should be less than two inches of leeway between the child and the strap.
Installing the Car Seat
Infant car seats are designed to be rear-facing. The safest spot for fragile infants is in the center position of the back seat (or the middle seat for wagons or vans with additional seating in the back). Once you follow instructions for situating the base in your car, it should fit snugly. When you try to shake it, it shouldn’t give more than one inch from side to side.
In addition, the seats should be level according to that seat’s design (some actually have a level in the base so you can see that it is at the right angle).
There are some tricks to getting a snug fit, and the best bet is to go to an official car seat inspection station. Many local fire departments or state police offices will check your car seat fit for you. What better way to ensure it’s installed safely than by those who respond to car accidents every day? Go to the NHTSA website if you need help finding an official inspection station near you.
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