Do you know the consequences of using car seats improperly?

Most mommies know the importance of using a child restraint when traveling by car, but many don’t know the intricacies of using car seats properly or the possible consequences of using car seats improperly.

Here’s a few tips for ensuring your child is riding safely in the car every time:

Read the Manual:Seat-belts-and-safety-2

  • Everything a parent or caregiver needs to know about using a car seat can be found in the manual that comes with the seat
  • It is important to read through the manual cover to cover before using or installing any car seat
  • If you need the manual for your seat, they can usually be found online through the car seat manufacturer’s website

Know your options: There are many types of child car seats including

  • Rear-facing only infant carriers
  • Convertible seats which rear-face and forward face harnessed
  • 3-in-1 or All-in-1 seats that can be used rear-facing, forward facing with a harness and as a belt positioning booster
  • Combination seats are forward facing only that can be used with a harness and as a belt positioning booster
  • Booster seats which are only used to position the vehicle seat belt

Choose the right type of car seat:

  • Children under 20 pounds and 1 year of age must ride rear-facing but The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends all children under the age of 2 ride in a rear-facing seat (infant carrier or convertible) and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) suggests rear-facing children until as close to 4 as possible or until they outgrow their seat rear-facing
  • The NHTSA also recommends keeping children in a forward-facing harnessed seat to the maximum limits of the seat
  • Children should ride in a booster seat until the child fits properly in the vehicle seatbelt with the belt low and snug on the upper things, not stomach, and the shoulder belt across the shoulder, not the neck or face
  • It is also suggested that all children should ride in the backseat through the 12th year

Make sure your child fits:

  • Every car seat has its own height, weight and age minimums and maximums. Using any seat beyond the stated limits can put your child in danger
  • Make sure you are using any inserts as required by the manufacturer (this information can be found in the car seat manual)

Adjust the seat to properly fit your child:

  • When rear-facing, the harness straps should be adjusted to come from at or below the child’s shoulders
  • When forward facing, the harness straps should be adjusted to come from at or above the child’s shoulders
  • The chest clip should be placed at the level of the child’s armpits
  • The straps should be tightened until you cannot pinch the strap at the child’s shoulders

Check the car seat is safe for use:

  • Whenever possible, use a seat bought new in the box with all tags attached
  • All car seats pass the same safety tests, so the cheapest seat will protect your child just as well as the most expensive as long as it is used properly
  • Only use a secondhand seat you receive from a trusted source and ensure the seat is not expired.  The manufacture date will be clearly stated on a sticker on the seat and the expiration date may be also be on a sticker or stamped into the plastic
  • Also ensure a used seat has never been in an accident, the harness straps have never been washed and that there have been no recalls on the seat

Ensure the seat is properly installed:

  • When installing the car seat in the car, you can use the LATCH strap and lower anchors or the vehicle seatbelt, but never both at the same time
  • When forward facing you should always use the Top Tether strap, whether installed with lower LATCH or vehicle seatbelt (top tether anchors are standard in all cars manufactured after 2002 and can often be retrofitted in cars older than 2002 by a dealer)
  • Only use the lower LATCH anchors in the middle of a car if your car has dedicated center lower anchors or your car seat and vehicle allow “LATCH borrowing” (this information can be found in your car seat manual and vehicle owner’s manual)
  • Most car seats are not allowed to touch the front seat when rear-facing and infant carriers have specific requirements for what position the carry handle needs to be in (this information can be found in the car seat’s manual)
  • When properly installed, check that the car seat moves less than 1 inch side to side.  To test the movement, grasp the seat near where the belt runs through the restraint and jiggle firmly (it is normal and safe for seats to have more movement at the head portion of the seat, especially when installed rear-facing)
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Melissa Roy

Melissa Roy

I am a full-time stay at home mommy and part time ballet teacher.With a kindergartner, newborn and one in between, my mommying journey is never dull and constantly takes me new places and teaches me more than I ever thought I could know about love, patience and this big, confusing world we live in.
Melissa Roy

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  1. says

    I didn’t realize the chest clip was supposed to be up so high.

    I saw 2 children approximately age 5 in the front bucket seat of a car the other day just bouncing around. It’s hard for me to mind my own business when I see that. Last month during the bad weather a community near us lost a little boy who wasn’t restrained properly. It was icy and his mother rolled their van down a hill and the little one was ejected from the vehicle. You would think people would learn.

    • Melissa Roy says


      The placement of the chest clip as actually very important since its purpose to keep the harness straps properly placed on the child’s shoulders and it absorbs a lot of the impact in the event of an accident. For this reason it is crucial the clip is on the stronger bony part of the chest, not on the soft stomach or sternum. I find it easiest to properly plate it by lining it up over the nipples on a smaller baby and with the top of the chest clip at armpit level on older children.

  2. says

    I often marvel at the changes that have come about over the past 30 years or so regarding seat belts. When I was young, no one ever thought of using a seat belt! I think my brother and I would roll around the back seat and play! I am so glad there are better safety measures now.

  3. says

    Saying that car accidents are the leading cause of death for children >3 followed by info about car restraints implies that that statistic would be different if proper restraints were used. Which might be true, and might not. Restraints, equally, could make absolutely no difference at all. The metric actually says nothing, though it’s offered as if it’s telling. I expect restraints do some good, but I’d be curious to know how much. The usual pattern with these things is that the ability of safety devices to prevent death is greatly exaggerated, and made into a sort of holy crusade disconnected from measurable results. Bicycle safety helmets are the most obvious example.

    • Melissa Roy says

      In their Traffic Safety Facts bulletin from November 2013, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration states that the lives of 284 children under the age of 4 were saved due to the use of child restraints in 2012 and they estimate this number to be a total of 9,600 children saved between 1975 and 2010. While it is true that a properly installed and used child restraint is not a guarantee of survival, it can increase survival chances as well as greatly reduce injuries in even minor crashes.

  4. says

    Yes this is some great info especially for new parents, I have to make sure all my kids are safe because it is very dangerous. so our drive to any location they will be safe

  5. Jennifer Brown says

    I remember the days of making sure my kids were protected in my car.
    Their in college now and I worry about them in their own car. Life.

  6. says

    You are so right. We’ve struggled with our second child who is begging for a different carseat (what his older brother has) but isn’t old enough nor weights enough to change over yet. Its so important to know.

  7. says

    It makes me sick when I see pics of kids on people’s social media pages without being properly places in the car seats! There is so much information online, like on awesome blogs like this! Educating a parent can save a life!

  8. says

    All very important and valid points when looking for a car seat that is right for you. It’s also very important to remember to take your child’s coat off before you put them in the car seat.

  9. says

    I really wish there were more places available that you could take your car seat in and have it checked to make sure that it is installed correctly. I learned this year that the most important thing to remember in Winter is NO JACKETS!!! Its scary how many people ignore this reason!

  10. says

    Great information that should be read by every parent. I am very cautious when it comes to car seats but I worry about being seen as preachy so I try not to say too much to friends or family.

  11. says

    My car is an old YUKON and it doesnt have the restraint hooks installed in the seats. I get nervous about this because they are not as secure as they are in the newer cars. Good aadvice to check the recalls too!! Many people dont think of that.

    • Melissa Roy says

      Jenny, using a seat belt to install a seat is just as safe as using the lower anchors if you can get a tight install and make sure the seat belt is locked. If you have a forward facing seat, I suggest calling your local Chevy dealer and asking if they can retrofit the top tether anchors for you as the top tether really does make a huge difference in the safety and security of a forward facing seat.

  12. Diane says

    As a Grandmother of 3, I try my best to be sure I have the kids properly in their car seats. However, I find if disturbing when I see children on TV not being strapped properly. Case in point, last night on the Bachelor they showed his daughter in her car seat, the chest buckle was at her waist and the shoulder strap was sliding off her shoulder. That child was not safe. Too many parent do just what is necessary put the child in the seat latch the straps and off they go, in a crash these children will be seriously hurt.

    • Melissa Roy says


      You are right that misuse is a huge issue, especially on TV. I’ve seen gross misuse on both reality and scripted shows and cringe every time I see something that could seriously harm a child. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that only 3 out of 4 child seats are not used correctly. This is why education on the intricacies of child passenger safety is so important!

  13. says

    I was in a car accident recently and luckily my kids were not in the car, there are a lot of drivers not paying attention out there and it is better to be safe than sorry.

  14. says

    Always good to see these reminders. I don’t have any little ones, but I know when I’m taking my sister’s children I always try to double check the directions on the seats for where/how they are supposed to be placed in the car.

  15. says

    Great post! I think it’s also important to make parents aware of the dangers of using bulky coats while their children are in car seats.

    • Melissa Roy says

      You’re so right, Cyndi. It is very important to never place anything between your child and their seat or the child and their harness other than lightweight clothes. This includes fluffy winter coats, add-on head supports and strap covers!

  16. says

    great post. I’ve seen too many incidences with children that have not been buckled up properly have been seriously injured or have is very sad because you can look in the owners manual it tells you what to do and if you don’t understand you can go to the local fire department and they can help you.

  17. says

    It is scary to think what could happen while traveling in a car. We always make sure our boys’s seats are fastened properly. Thankfully they understand the importance of the seat belt.

  18. says

    super points—I’ve had kids out of seats for about 4 years now and Miss Molly came into our lives and I need to get caught up–the styles had changed so much!

  19. says

    While I’m happy to admit i’m past this part in my life. It’s still very important in the lives of many. This post is a great source of helpful information and this can happen to anyone. Bravo on bringing it to light.

  20. says

    Great informational post! I actually had it happen to me once when my daughter was little- didn’t have the car seat installed properly and hit the brakes.. she came forward and scared the heck out of me.. thankfully it was on our street and she wasn’t hurt! very important to make sure car seats are installed right! thanks for sharing!

  21. says

    This is a fun informative safety article I ever read. Safety is first but we still use things per convenience by side lining the most important factors and that too for our own kids.

  22. says

    I am so glad that I am past this stage! I will share this with some friends who have younger children; they should really find this helpful.

  23. says

    I love this post. My son is getting big now, but it’s still a requirement for him to be in a seat. I’ve read that if their head is higher than the back of the seat, the seat is too small. I wonder how much truth there is to that…my son’s head is just about to the top of his.

    • Melissa Roy says


      Most seats require 1″ of clearance above the child’s head for rear-facing and for forward facing, the top of the child’s ears must be below the top of the car seat and shoulders below the top harness slot. Some seats have different requirements regarding when a seat is outgrown by height so be sure to check your manual and thanks for doing your best to keep your little one safe!

  24. says

    The state highway patrol and/or local fire departments often offer child safety seat checks at local fairs and festivals. You can contact your local highway patrol office or fire station to find out where to have your child’s seat checked — for free. They would much rather spend five minutes helping you install it right than meet you at an accident after a seat fails.

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