Skip to main content

Five mistakes parents make with child car seats

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration recently released a list of some of the most common mistakes made by parents when installing child car and booster seats.

1. Incorrect harness slot. Parents often use the wrong harness slot to strap their child in before heading out. NHTSA says that all too often, these harness straps are positioned either too low or too high, preventing them from serving their purpose, which is to keep kids in their place in the event of an accident.

2. Improper placement of harness chest clip. Another positioning error that has been known to occur with some regularity is with the harness chest clip. Here, parents may mistakenly place it so that it’s over the stomach area rather than the chest. In fact, some have been known not to use the strap at all, evidently because they don’t think it’s needed.

3. Too much slack in harness. Yet another issue involving the harness is allowing it to be too loose rather than snug. NHTSA says that if parents or caregivers notice more than two inches worth of slack between the strap and the child, it is not enough. The strap should be taut, but not so close-fitting that it hurts or is uncomfortable.

4. Seat rocks or sways. Child seats that are too loose are also a child safety issue that traffic officials have come across. Parents often assume that seats that sway slightly might simply be a quirk of the seat. In reality, the restraint system should move no more than two inches side-to-side or front to back.

5. Seatbelt somewhere other than over the chest. Finally, NHTSA says where the seatbelt should be placed is often confused by parents and child care providers. Ideally, the lap belt should come straight across the child’s chest. Anything that deviates from that – such as if the shoulder belt is too close to the neck or stomach – is a clear indication that the seatbelt doesn’t fit and needs to be repositioned.

David Strickland, administrator for the NHTSA, noted that while these are often innocent mistakes, they could result in severe injury during an accident, even for small incidents like a fender-bender.

“Child safety seats save hundreds of young lives every year, but proper use is vital,” said Strickland. “That’s why we’re urging everyone to make sure their kids are properly protected on every trip, every time.”

To better inform parents and caregivers about the proper installation and placement procedures, NHTSA and child advocacy organization Safe Kids have recently published a checklist that can be downloaded for free.

To view the Car Seat Checkup list, click here.