man buckling a child into a car seatThis weekend, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is capping off Child Passenger Safety Week with National Seat Check Saturday. If you have not already had a certified technician check your child’s safety seat, you should arrange an appointment at a local inspection site. Surveys at these sites reveal that at least 75% of car seats are incorrectly installed.

How Car Seats Protect Children

Car seats are built to distribute the impact of a crash in a way that protects your little ones. In order to do this, two things are necessary:

  • The child must fit securely in the seat. A properly positioned (and tightened) five-point harness will hold their small body in the car seat, preventing them from flying out in a crash. This is one reason why it’s important to make sure your child rides in the right car seat.
  • The seat must be secured to your car. If it is not, then it will simply come loose in a crash and become a projectile. This is why proper seat installation is so critical. If the seat is too loose or improperly installed, it will be as though you didn’t buckle them up at all.

General Tips and Resources on Car Seat Installation

The details will vary between models of car seats (not to mention models of cars), but these general tips and resources will help get you on the right track.

  1. Read the manual carefully. We know, it can be daunting to wade through the descriptions and decipher the diagrams, but it’s vital to attach the correct parts of the car seat to the right parts of your car. Enlist the help of a friend or family member for moral support, if needed, for that first installation attempt.
  2. Familiarize yourself with common vehicle and car seat attachment parts. If the manual is too confusing, check out this NHTSA page that covers all the basic hardware involved in car seat installation, including the anchors, tethers, and their attachment points.
  3. Check out instructional videos. NHTSA also hosts excellent instructional videos about each type of car seat that will walk you through the installation process.

Getting Ready for Your Car Seat Inspection

Make an Appointment

NHTSA has a handy seat inspection site finder. Just enter your zip code and follow the link to find inspection information for your area. You can also check for events in your state at SafeKids.org.

Maryland residents can also check the Maryland.gov Meetings & Events Calendar. (Inspection events are under Category > Health > KISS, so submit that via the pulldown menu if it is not already selected.) Note that most of these events not only require appointments, they are limited to the residents of the host counties. Check each listing for details.

Arrive with the Car Seat Installed

Do your best and be sure to bring the seat in the car you plan to use it in. This way they can ensure that the seat fits your car and show you the best way to position it for safety.

Bring All Manuals and Instructions

This includes the manuals for the car seat and for your car. The safety technicians doing the inspections have taken courses to get their certifications, but they may still be helpful as additional resources if your car (or seat) has unexpected features.

Bring Your Child (If Requested)

Some events also specifically request you bring your child (if already born!) so that the safety technicians can also check the harness positioning and fit. If you’re concerned about distraction during the check, bring along a friend or family member to help with your child.

Arrive Prepared to Participate

Car seat checks aren’t like drive-through installations. They’re interactive and you should expect to participate. The safety technician will not only show you how to properly install your car seat, they’ll make sure that you can do it successfully on your own. They typically allow at least 20-30 minutes for each appointment, so don’t be afraid to take advantage of this. It is their goal to help you get comfortable with the installation so you can check your child’s car seat with confidence in the future.