Is Your Car Seat Installed Correctly? Take It to a Checkpoint

When I teach Newborn Essentials, I tell clients that one of our first responsibilities as new parents is to properly install the car seat. Then I ask how many people took the car seat to a checkpoint to make sure it was properly installed. I find that most people aren’t aware of this very valuable resource and it’s one which I encourage ALL parents with a child in any type of car seat (infant-only; convertible; or booster seat) to utilize.

It’s currently National Child Passenger Safety Week so I figured now is the perfect opportunity to spend some time talking about car seat checkpoints. It’s a scary statistic, but the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) estimates that 3 out of 4 car seats are not properly installed. Even if an infant or child is in the safest car seat on the market, if it’s not installed correctly, it may not protect the child to its fullest ability. As a parent, I can tell you that’s not a risk I’m willing to take with my child!

When you take the time to go to a car seat checkpoint, the Child Passenger Safety (CPS) Technician will show you how to properly install the seat, including: figuring out which seat is the safest (some cars get a safer fit in the middle seat; others on the passenger side of the car); making sure either the LATCH or seat belt is tight enough; ensuring the base or seat is leveled; and ensuring that there’s not too much slack allowing it to move in an unsafe way. They can also guide you on how to properly position your baby or child in the seat, and what to look for to make sure you’re using the harness straps as safely as you can.

I recently had a discussion about car seat checkpoints with one of my wonderful Great Beginnings Groups in our Boston center. Many of them had visited a checkpoint and I asked them to share their experiences with me. Here’s what these moms had to say:

“My husband and I tried installing it ourselves, but we were surprised to find it was actually hard to tighten the LATCH enough to prevent the base from moving, so that’s why we went to a check point.”

“I always thought the LATCH system would be safer than installing it with a seat belt, but the (CPS) technician could make it fit tighter and better in the middle back seat with the seat belt than in the side seats with the LATCH.”

“It shocked me to learn that you can install the infant-only seat without the base if you’re taking a taxi.”

“The thing that has stayed with me the most was the recommendation to keep the handle back behind baby’s neck, to not only offer more support in the event of an accident; but also so toys weren’t hanging down off of it, which in the event of a collision could injure baby.”

To locate a checkpoint, you can go to http://seatcheck.org and type in your zip code to see where in your city/town it is offered. Check points are usually free, but donations are often requested. It’s important to make an appointment–sometimes getting an appointment can take a while, so you probably want to call as early as you can. For expectant parents, I usually recommend having the car seat installed by the time you’re 36 weeks pregnant. If you already have a baby, it’s never too late to take advantage of this service. And when you’re transitioning your little one from infant seat to convertible, or convertible to booster seat, go again!

For more information on Car Seat Safety, here are some great resources:

Child Passenger Safety in Massachusetts including MA laws and selecting and installing car seats

Locating a car seat installation site

The American Academy of Pediatrics on car seat safety

Teresa Stewart, MS MPH

Program Lead, CPR and First Aid

Have you visited a car seat checkpoint? What was your experience?

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2 Responses to Is Your Car Seat Installed Correctly? Take It to a Checkpoint
  1. Nancy
    September 20, 2010 | 5:12 pm

    I went to a checkpoint for my first child’s seat, in my hometown of Newton. The examiner was thorough, and spent a lot of time with us educating us. I went back for a refresher with my second child’s seat and was dismayed to find that Newton had cut the service. Given that surrounding towns often require residency for inspections, it wasn’t easy finding a place to go. In the end I found an individual who used to do inspections and now does it out of a mechanic’s garage. Not nearly so thorough, or educational. With the statistics being what they are on injuries to children in car accidents, I can’t believe this woudl be a service that gets cut.

  2. Heather
    September 23, 2010 | 4:57 pm

    Arlington has cut this service as well and I found the same challenge – most surrounding towns require residency in order to get an appointment.

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