Montana Department of Transportation

10 Reasons to wear a seatbelt image

We all think we’re using the proper precautions when we install a child safety seat and buckle in our child. In truth, 73 percent of car seats are misused in a way that could reduce their effectiveness in a crash, according to Safe Kids Worldwide.

“That looks about right” isn’t good enough. Here are four common mistakes you might not even realize you’re making, but that could endanger your child’s life.

carseat installed improperly

1. IMPROPER SEAT INSTALLATION

We all hate to read instructions. But when it comes to installing a car seat, it is imperative to read and follow the manufacturer’s and the vehicle’s instructions. Seats that look similar often have significantly different installation guidelines. Common mistakes include routing the seat belt through the wrong belt path, failing to use a top tether for a forward-facing car seat, installing a rear-facing infant seat in the front passenger seat, and using both the seat belt and the lower anchors at the same time. When properly installed, the car seat should move no more than one inch side to side.

young girl in car seat with improper chest clip position

2. INCORRECT CHEST CLIP POSITION

This may seem like a minor thing. But fact is, proper positioning of the chest clip is one of the most important factors in the safety of your child. Too low? Your child can be ejected in a crash. Too high? A neck injury can result. As a general rule of thumb, the clip should be in line with the child’s armpits.

young girl buckled in car

3. IT’S THE WRONG SEAT FOR YOUR CHILD

There’s no one-size-fits-all solution when it comes to car seats. Your child’s age, weight and height all factor into selecting the right seat. At a minimum your child should have three car seats in her life: a rear-facing seat for as long as possible until at least age 2, a forward-facing seat with harness until at least age 4, and finally a booster seat. Weight and height limits of each car seat determine when a child should graduate to the next stage. Even after she graduates to using just the vehicle’s seat belt she should remain in the back seat until at least age 13. Not sure which seat is right for your child right now? Here’s a handy tool that will tell you what the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) recommends.

parents near car seat filling out paperwork

4. IT’S THE WRONG SEAT FOR ANY CHILD

Every car seat has an expiration date. There’s a good reason. Plastics become brittle. Parts become worn. Most seats expire six years after the date of manufacture. Typically you can find the expiration date printed on the seat; you may also see it printed in the owner’s manual. You can also call the manufacturer. And even if your seat is brand new, make sure to register it with the manufacturer. This will ensure you’re advised of any safety recalls.