When Child Passenger Safety Week rolls around each September, auto companies and non-profits promote national campaigns to increase safety awareness of car seats and boosters. However, parents know that child safety — whether in a car, train, taxi, airplane or other moving vehicle — is a year round concern. And with the technology and innovation that’s gone into all aspects of parenting, it’s time for a refresher on safety recommendations for transporting our tiniest travelers.
Car Seat Safety for Infants and Toddlers
“Keep your child rear facing as long as possible,” says Ryan Hawker, Safety 1st Child Passenger Safety Technician and the company’s car seat safety expert. We know how busy moms hate this idea, but Safety 1st and other companies offer inexpensive, shatter-proof mirrors that enable new parents to monitor their infants from the front seat, as well as soft toys that keep older infants busy even without a view.
The message: don’t rush to reverse the direction of your car seat. Ryan cites a study in the Journal of Injury Prevention which found that children under the age of 2 are 75% less likely to die or be severely injured in the event of a car crash if they are facing to the rear.
Putting Children into Car Seats Correctly
Take a few minutes before rushing out of your parking space to make sure that infants, toddlers and older children are wearing their restraints correctly. The “pinch and inch test” recommended by Buckle Up for Life, the national child passenger safety program developed by Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center and Toyota, is a handy hack. First, pinch the car seat strap near the child’s shoulder; if you can pinch a wrinkle in the fabric, tighten the strap until it is snug. Next, grab the car seat toward the back and bottom and tug from side to side and front to back. If the seat moves more than an inch in either direction, tighten it. (See more about proper car seat installation below.)
Before securing a child in any safety seat, remove bulky outerwear such as a rain jacket or winter coat. A coat can prevent the harness from fitting correctly, or compress in a crash, compromising the seat’s ability to protect your child.
Make Sure the Car Seat is Good Enough for your Precious Cargo
Are grandma and grandpa saving your old car seat for when their newest great grandchild comes to visit? Not a good idea. Ryan Hawker warns that car seat plastic can become brittle, and worn fabrics and straps may not do their job well. Car seats literally do “expire” and parents should check the expiration date on the back or the side of the car seat before using one. Additionally, just as with a bicyle helmet, if a car seat has been in a crash, do not use it.
While car seat use is mandatory for infants and toddlers, fewer parents take advantage of booster seats recommended for children who are out of car seats, but not yet big enough to safely wear seat belts. They are valuable safety tools also.
Booster Seats for School Age Children
Standard belts do not ride low on the hips of a child who slides forward, or fit snugly across a short child’s chest. Therefore, experts say children who have outgrown child safety seats should use booster seats until they are at least 8 years or 57″ tall. According to national statistics, fewer than 20% of children ages 4-8 (about 40-80 lbs) do use them on a regular basis, yet it’s estimated that 45% of serious car-related injuries could be prevented by their use.
Fortunately, innovative thinking has extended to the booster seat market and it may well inspire more families to use them. A new product going on the market in Spring 2016 is mifold, a super compact and portable child car safety seat which works by bringing the seat belts down to the child’s smaller torso size. Even better for travelers, it is 10 times smaller than a regular booster seat and can fold into a glove compartment or tote bag. Invented by a dad of four and funded through a Kickstarter campaign, we hope it has a successful launch. Note that at this time, it is not certified by the FAA for airplane use.
Install Your Safety Seat Correctly
Buying a child safety seat means knowing how to install it. The universal LATCH (Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children) system has standardized carseat and booster installation in most vehicles. LATCH systems, which make it easier for parents to correctly attach a LATCH carseat to anchors built into the back seat rather than with seat belts, is mandatory on two rear seats of all vehicles, and on convertible carseats and toddler/booster seats. Never use both a seat belt and a LATCH device to install a car seat or booster.
Never heard of LATCH? Never fear. There is a lot of information available about LATCH and how to schedule a free car seat installation inspection when you try it out. These inspections can be done at many AAA offices, police and fire stations, and even community centers, so check the websites SaferCar, SeatCheck and SafeKids for information on the nearest location.
Here’s a video with more safety tips.
Child Safety Seats in Airplanes
Your carseat can do double-duty when you fly with babies and toddlers. While carseats certified for use by the FAA remain the most effective restraint for children occupying their own airplane seats, however, neither the LATCH system nor booster seats (backless seats can crumple forward on impact) will provide enhanced safety during flight.
Fortunately, the FAA has published a Child Safety Seats on Airplanes brochure so that parents will be fully informed about their choices. For more information, try www.nhtsa.dot.gov.
Alternate Child Restraint Options
Today, there is consensus that parents who can afford to purchase an airline seat should, and that infants should be properly restrained. Prefer not to travel with your child’s car seat or booster? Not a problem. Fortunately, innovation has made restraining a child in flight easier than ever and there are many easy-to-carry tools to do so.
The Cares Safety Restraint System or CARES (Child Aviation Restraint System) is a travel harness safety device that ensures the protection of young children during take-off, landing, and taxi. It is the only FAA Approved child flying safety device, and was awarded the Good Housekeeping 2008 Good Buy Award. Designed by a Vermont grandmother as an example of necessity being the (grand)mother of invention, the AmSafe Aviation system is designated for children ages 1 to 4-years-old who weigh 22-44 pounds, and who are no taller than 40″. Simple to install, the device uses an additional belt and shoulder harness around the seat back that attaches to the passenger lap belt and restrains the upper part of the body. Easy to transport (the device weighs only a pound and fits into a 6″ sack), it is also usable in any airplane seat, except for exit row seats (where children are not permitted to be seated.)
Another option for parents is the lightweight, foldable Baby B’Air Infant Vest, which parents can tuck into their bags and use, like a fortified bib, to contain squirmy toddlers and strap them into an airplane seat.
Both are convenient alternatives to FAA-certified car seats (which were never designed to be lightweight for air travel), and can be a smart investment for frequent traveling families, because they offer greater protection for young ones than a parent’s lap.
Before you plan your next road trip or flight with babies and toddlers, make sure you’re informed and up to date on the latest safety seat recommendations.
Dear Reader: This page may contain affiliate links which may earn a commission if you click through and make a purchase. Our independent journalism is not influenced by any advertiser or commercial initiative unless it is clearly marked as sponsored content. As travel products change, please be sure to reconfirm all details and stay up to date with current events to ensure a safe and successful trip.