10 Great Back-to-School Car and Booster Seat Safety Tips

From Issue: 
October 2016

With most elementary and high schools having been back in session for at least a month, the roads are back to being busy with school buses and parents driving their young children to school. For those parents requiring car seats for their children, here is some advice on car seat maintenance and safety:

1. Take the time to review your car seat manual, so you know the minimum and maximum height and weight limits:

Each child is unique. Children develop differently and at different times. There are a wide range of differences in the growth and development patterns of children in terms of weight and height within the same age bracket and even between genders. To ensure that the maximum safety for each child car seat is achieved, manufacturers use height and weight to establish the safety limitations.

Prepare your children for a safe ride to and from school by double checking your car seat’s minimum and maximum weight, and height ranges. If they are not within the limits or getting close to the limits, then it’s time to consider moving your child into their next car seat.

2. Register your child’s car seat and check the expiry date:

It is important to always remember to register your child’s car seat with the manufacturer as soon as you purchase it. By registering your child’s car seat with the car seat manufacturer, you will give them the ability to contact you if there is a recall or important safety notice.

When you purchase your car seat, you will find that in addition to the instruction manual and labels on your car seat there is an expiration date. Car seats, like most products, wear over time. There are several factors that are taken in to consideration when determining an expiration date, including: frequency of use, environmental exposure (sunlight and fluctuating temperatures), and general wear and tear. It is important to note that every car seat has different expiry dates. For example, the Harmony Defender 360 3-in-1 harness seat will expire 10 years from the date of manufacturing while the Harmony Highback Dreamtime Deluxe Booster, Harmony Youth booster and Harmony Big Boost Deluxe will expire 6 years after the date of manufacturing.

If you are using a carpool or caregiver to chauffeur your little one to and from school, take the time to ensure that the car seat being used to protect your child has not expired. It may seem like a little detail, but this detail keeps your young one safe in case of an accident.

3. Get an expert check-up:

It is best to have a professional double check your car seat installation. If this is your first car seat or if you are taking your car seat in and out regularly, it might be a good idea to have a professional review the installation with you.  A second opinion can help to make sure that everything is installed properly and that you are not losing those finer safety details. When it comes to car seat safety, the finer details can add up and lead to a reduced level of safety for your child.

4. Train your helpers:

Using a family member, friend or carpool to take your child back and forth to school is a great way to reduce stress and save some time. It is a good idea to take the time to check that the car seat they are using is first and foremost the right fit for your child. If you are sharing your car seat between carpools, always check to ensure that the car seat is properly installed in the other vehicle before driving. Not every car seat fits all vehicles, so it is important to ensure that your car seat is compatible with those driving your child. 

Once you know the seat and car that will be used, practice buckling and unbuckling your little one from the car seat with the other drivers. Even though buckling your child in may be second nature to you, other people may not be as familiar with your car seat or the correct way to securely buckle them in. Take the time to take the other drivers through the process of placing your child in the car seat, showing them how to properly and securely place the harness or belts, how to tighten, and how to double check. Having your child properly installed and buckled up can make a huge difference if an accident occurs.

5. Be prepared for growth spurts:

All children grow in different ways and at different times. Generally, car seats offer features that will grow with your child, such as an adjustable headrest and/or adjustable harness shoulder belt.  The visual cues of your child’s head and shoulder appearance and placement in their car seat should help you to identify when it is a good time to start shopping for their next car seat. Here are a few simple questions to help: Is my child’s head centered in the headrest? Are my child’s ears above the top of the headrest? Is the harness placed at shoulder level? Is the harness too tight or too loose on my child?

6. Always have a backup:

As your children grow so does their circle of friends. Be prepared and have an emergency car seat or booster at home to help keep your child social and their friends safe. If you do not have the right car seat to keep them safe, ask their parents if you can use theirs or kindly decline to drive.

7. Car seats are not toys:

Car seats are designed first and foremost for your child’s safety. If you are considering adding to the design, covering or modifying parts of your car seat or buckles, please think again. Any modification that you make can cause issues with the level of safety that your car seat is able to provide your child.  Also, try to deter children from playing with the car seat and buckles. The smallest change can cause seen and unseen problems. For example, you could experience issues with attachment clips, positioning and release mechanisms. Remember, your child’s car seat was designed to keep them safe while in the car.

8. Avoid thick clothing:

It’s normal to bundle your child up to protect them from the cold. However, when placing them in your car seat it is important to take off their winter jacket and snow pants. Bulky or puffy clothing lead to the appearance of your child being snuggly buckled in.  Thicker layers of clothing can lead to safety issues with the seat belt positioning, causing problems with shoulder straps (and chest if you are using a harness). The thicker layer can also wrongly suggest an increase in your child’s height.

If your child is in a harnessed car seat, one of the best ways to see if your child is still protected with thick, bulky or puffy clothing is to perform a pinch test on the harness belt with and without the clothing.

To perform a pinch test, place your child in their seat with their bulky clothing on and adjust the harness seat strap. The next step is to try and pinch (with your thumb and forefinger) a fold in the harness between the chest clip and shoulder. If you are able to gather excess material from the harness strap retighten the strap. Repeat the pinch test to make sure that the excess material is gone.

Without adjusting the harness, take your child out of the car seat, then take off their bulky clothing and perform the same test. You will no doubt find that you are able to pinch excess material on the harness strap. The end result is that their bulky clothing has created an extra space between your child and the harness. This extra space is a safety issue for your child and can lead to a lower level of protection and higher chance of injuries. If your child is wearing bulky clothing at the time of a crash, the clothing will compress, creating too much space between your child and the seatbelt.

You can attempt to retighten the harness when your child is not wearing bulky clothing and then place your child in the harnessed seat with the bulky clothing on. This however, may cause the harness to be too tight, making your child uncomfortable and possibly leading to other injuries.

Pro tip: a great idea is to keep extra blankets in the car so it is easier to keep your little one warm without their jacket on. You can also plan ahead and warm up your car before leaving.

9. Four car seat no-no’s to double-check regularly:

  • Remove any items preventing the back of the car seat to lay flush against the vehicle seat.
  • Remove any items or barriers preventing the bottom of your child’s car seat to lay flush.
  • Regularly check and double-check the Top Tether strap and the LATCH to ensure that they are held securely in place.
  • Check the shoulder harness to ensure that it is form fitting for every trip. You should not be able to fit more than two fingers between your child and the shoulder harness.

10.  Three great starter car rules:

  • Children under the age of 12 should be riding in the back seat.
  • Create a “No-Go Golden Rule” and wait until everyone is safely buckled in before driving anywhere. Accidents regularly happen in even the shortest of distances, so it is best not to drive until everyone is buckled in tight.
  • Practice wearing a seat belt. Children often mimic their parents and elders. Be a good example and buckle up!

This article was written and provided by Harmony Juvenile Products.