Car Seat Safety – Outside of the Car
We all know that car seats are life savers.
We’ve seen the viral photos of seemingly unscathed car seats pulled from the wreckage of a crash; grateful parents praising the seat for saving the lives of their children, vowing to never buy another brand ever again.
But what’s most important is that the child restraint is used correctly, no matter the brand. This is especially important for seats that are used outside of the vehicle.
The AAP estimates that over 43,000 car-seat related injuries were treated in emergency rooms from 2003 to 2007. (Side note: I wish there were more recent data and I’m working on finding it, if it exists.) This total does not include motor vehicle crashes and it only takes into account children under one year old – the typical age of a child in an infant seat (or rear-facing only seat). The most common forms of injury were due to children falling out of car seats, car seats falling with children in them, and car seats overturning onto soft surfaces. 84% of these babies suffered a head injury.
The vast majority of these injuries are preventable with a few simple steps.
- Keep them buckled in. If you keep your child in the car seat when it’s not used in the vehicle, keep them properly harnessed. This means that the straps are properly positioned and tightened with the chest clip at the correct setting. Any time your baby is in the car seat, pretend you’re about to drive with them in it. Never loosen the straps without removing them completely, since you never know when you may need them to restrain your child. It is also dangerous to unbuckle just the crotch strap while leaving the chest clip intact; the baby could slouch in the seat and cause the chest clip to strangle them.
- No elevated surfaces. This includes the top of shopping carts, tables, beds, and overturned highchairs/car seat slings at restaurants. Car seats are not designed to attach to anything besides their base, so that click you may hear when you set them down lends to a false sense of security. Their curved underside can also lead to it rocking slightly, and kids have tipped themselves right off of tables when they rock back and forth with the motion. Also remember that babies shouldn’t spend prolonged periods of time in car seats; this leads to oxygen desaturation and asphyxiation. Whenever possible you should remove your baby from their car seat, and never, ever let them sleep in it overnight. In fact, you should aim to keep your baby in the car seat for a maximum of about 2 hours at a time.
- If possible, use a baby carrier. A properly positioned baby carrier allows baby to sit upright with support at their back and legs and does not prevent them from breathing (by way of overtightening or obstructed airway). If a baby carrier is not an option, keep them properly harnessed and attach the infant seat to a stroller. Some manufacturers allow you to put the infant seat in the large basket portion of the shopping cart (just make sure it’s not tipped forward if your baby doesn’t have good head control yet).