Child safety seats often used improperly

Posted at 11:09 AM, Aug 07, 2015

In an Aug. 1 rollover wreck on Interstate 640 that killed one woman and sent five others to the hospital, four of the car’s six passengers, including two babies, were ejected from the car.

Police said the children, both still hospitalized — a 9-month-old in critical condition, and a 23-month-old in stable condition — were strapped into car seats, but that the car seats were improperly secured to the vehicle.

It was an extreme case, but East Tennessee Children’s Hospital injury prevention coordinator Susan Cook said as many as four out of five car seats are improperly used or installed.

That’s why the SafeKids Coalition, to which Children’s Hospital belongs, regularly has car seat “safety checkpoints,” where trained volunteers ensure correct installation, as does the Knoxville Police Department. The police department will have one 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday at 917 E. Fifth Ave., while SafeKids’ next checkpoint is at 10 a.m.-1 p.m. Aug. 15 at the Oak Ridge Fire Department, 609 Oak Ridge Turnpike.

Meanwhile, Cook explained the most common mistakes she sees with car seats.

Parents often have the car seat too loose, or the harness too loose on the child, she said. Car seat straps should be as tight as they can be tightened by hand; “winches” interfere with the straps’ ability to work as intended during an accident. Once installed, if you shake it at the base, it shouldn’t move more than an inch side to side or front to back.

The harness needs to be coming from the correct slots for the child’s height, and the chest clip should be positioned at armpit level. Once it’s buckled, you shouldn’t be able to “pinch” any excess strap at the child’s shoulder. On older children, position seat belts over their hips, not their organs. “Remember, belts over bones,” Cook said.

Cook said children should stay in a rear-facing seat, at a 45-degree angle, as long as possible — usually until at least age 2. When you do go forward-facing, make sure you also attach the top tether after you tighten and lock the seat belt or lower anchors — and check to see whether you need to use seat belts or LATCH with your child’s seat and size; some recommendations changed last year.

Car seats have expiration dates on their labels, Cook said. Don’t use an expired one because it could have been recalled for a safety issues, and because the cushioning materials break down over time.

Children younger than 13 should always be in the back seat, and they need to be in a booster, which raises them so the seat belt is correctly positioned, until they’re at least 8 years ago and at least 4 feet, 9 inches tall — that’s state law.

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