Car seat safety: Top tips for parents

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Now that summer temps are up and road trips are under way, it is all the more important to make sure little ones are riding safely. Benjamin Arias, a child passenger safety technician at Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital Stanford, and our Child Safety Car Seat Fitting Station have worked with more than 20,000 families to ensure that parents know how to properly install a car seat, educated them on the ins and outs of child restraints, and even taught parents how to prevent vehicle-related heat stroke in their children. He recommends the following tips for parents:

  • Always read your child’s car seat instruction manual: Be sure to read your vehicle’s manual as well to find the safest location to install the seat.
  • Placement is key:  The center rear seat is the safest position for a child restraint system. If your vehicle does not allow safe installation in a center rear seat, consult your vehicle’s owner manual for other options. Never place a rear-facing car seat in the front seat with an active airbag, said Arias, who is also the Safe Kids Coalition coordinator for San Mateo and Santa Clara County.
  • Mind your child’s size: Though laws vary from state to state — in general — children under age 1 and weighing less than 20 pounds must be rear-facing. As a best practice, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children sit rear-facing as long as possible, in order to protect his or her spine in case of impact.  Children under the age of 8 years or under 4 feet 9 inches should be in a restraint system as well.
  • The right way to buckle up: When rear-facing, straps should be at or below the shoulder. If forward-facing, straps should be at or above the shoulders. Straps should be snug around the child’s shoulder area. Harness straps should be snug around the child; you should not be able to pinch excess material in the harness. In addition, chest clips should be secured at a position that is level with a child’s armpits.
  • Mind the heat: An enclosed, parked vehicle can quickly become dangerous for a child, as the car’s temperature can increase by as much as 10 degrees every 15 minutes. On average, 38 children die in the U.S. every year from vehicle-related heat deaths, according to KidsandCars.org. Never leave a child alone in the car, even for a minute.

For more information on child passenger safety, infant car seats and child restraints, please visit Stanfordchildrens.org.

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