WESTCHESTER COUNTY, N.Y. – It’s officially summer, which means vacation time and long trips in the family car. For those with small children, it’s important to make sure the little ones are safe while you're on the road.
Sue Larkin, RN, Blythedale Children’s Hospital’s coalition coordinator for the Safe Kids Westchester program, recently offered a free car-seat safety seminar. For those who were unable to attend, Larkin offers these tips and advice to help keep your smallest passengers safe before you hit the highway this summer on your own family adventure:
- Never leave a child alone in a vehicle - not even for a minute.
- Don’t customize your baby’s car seat with additional toys. “Add-on toys can injure your child in a crash,” Larkin said.
- Have your car seat checked by a certified child-passenger safety technician to make sure it is properly installed.
- For the best possible protection, keep your baby in a rear-facing child safety seat in a back seat for as long as possible – up to the height or weight limit of the particular seat. “The '12 months and 20 pounds’ rule that many parents cite when turning their child forward-facing in the car is actually the minimum size and age requirement for that change,” Larkin said. “New recommendations suggest that children remain rear-facing up to age two.”
- Keep a baby rear-facing in a convertible seat until he or she reaches the maximum height or weight allowed by the manufacturer. “For many children that will be 30, 35 or even 40 pounds,” Larkin notes. “Many kids will be over age two when they reach that weight. Rear-facing occupants are safest.”
- Read the car seat instructions. Use your baby’s car seat rear-facing and semi-reclined to no more than 45 degrees, so the baby’s head stays in contact with the seat and the baby’s airway stays open.
- Find the frontal airbags in your vehicle by checking the owner’s manual. Never put a rear-facing car seat in front of an active frontal airbag. “Children are always safest in a back seat,” Larkin said.
- Make sure the buckled harness straps that keep your baby properly positioned and secured in the car seat fit snugly. Loose harness straps don’t provide maximum protection. “Be sure the harness is tight enough that you cannot pinch webbing at the shoulder,” Larkin said.
- Position the shoulder straps through the slots at or below your baby’s shoulders and adjust the chest clip to armpit level.
- Use either the car’s seat belt or latch system to lock the car seat into the car. Do not use both systems at the same time.
- The car seat should not move more than 1 inch side to side or front to back. Grab the car seat at the safety belt or latch path to test it.
- Every car seat has an expiration date – generally, it is six years from manufacture. “Many have the expiration date stamped on the seat,” Larkin explained. “Contact the manufacturer of your specific seat to find out what its expiration date is.”
- Never buy a used car seat if you do not know its full history. Never use a car seat that has been in a crash, and avoid seats sold at flea markets, yard sales or online.