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5 common car-seat mistakes

By Tara Baukus Mello ·
Wednesday, September 19, 2012
Posted: 6 am ET

It is Child Passenger Safety Week and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, or NHTSA, has released a study on the five most common mistakes parents and caregivers make when using child seats and booster seats in cars.

The five most common mistakes are:

  1. The harness straps used to hold the child in the seat are either too high or too low, instead of over the shoulders.
  2. The chest clip is positioned over the abdomen or not used at all.
  3. The child seat itself moves more than two inches in any direction. Anything more than one inch is too much.
  4. The harness has more than two inches of slack between the child and the harness straps. There should be no slack.
  5. In booster seats, the seat belt placement is wrong, with either the lap belt resting over the stomach instead of the hips or thighs, or the shoulder belt resting across the child's neck or face instead of in the middle of the shoulder.

The NHTSA study also found that 20 percent of parents do not read any instructions when installing car seats. The agency, along with, encouraged parents and caregivers to conduct an at-home checkup of their seats, using the checklist at, or to attend one of the child seat inspections that it is hosting throughout this week in honor of Child Passenger Safety Week.
Tara Baukus Mello writes the cars blog as well as the weekly Driving for Dollars column, providing both practical financial advice for consumers as well as insight into the latest developments in the automotive world. Follow her on Facebook here or on Twitter @SheDrives.

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September 20, 2012 at 7:01 pm

My son's pediatrician told me that parents in Europe keep their kids rear facing for up to 4 years. The problem they see with Americans going front-facing after 1 year is that many children still break their necks in a direct hit from the front or back. If they are rear facing, they may have a higher chance of broken legs, but far less chance of neck problems in an accident.

Stephanie: All car seats are still compatible with the regular car seat belt, and many newer car seats I've seen come with a carseat belt locking clip that you put on so the seat belt doesn't get loose. If your car seat doesn't have one you can buy one fairly cheap at any store that sells baby stuff. The carseat latches are an extra feature they've started adding with newer cars. It's still just as safe to install a car seat with the regular seat belt. Just make sure you level it properly and read the instructions!

Stephanie Beck
September 20, 2012 at 12:54 pm

My '99 Toyota Camry does NOT have latch rings to attach the latch saftey belts. How do I install his careseat correctly without this extra support?

September 20, 2012 at 8:51 am

The best thing to do for expectant parents is to take your cars and car seats to your local police department or at least call to see which ones offer inspections. They will teach you the best place in your particular vehicle for the seat and will teach you the proper installation. A service very worthwhile!

September 20, 2012 at 6:44 am

My son uses a safety first convertible car seat and it is the best car seat I have ever seen. In order for children to be safe the parents have to put the car seat in the vehicle correctly and put the child in correctly. I'm saying this because I know fromexperience. My 2 year old son and I were in an accident in my pickup truck where he had to sit in the front seat. I ended up having to go to the hospital but my son did not. he was ok the car seat saved his life.

Bill tow
September 19, 2012 at 9:28 pm

Please let me know when someone builds a truly safe car seat
for children...
Car seats/belts are a life saver, however they take a toll on
the childs body! The design makes the child's body obsorb the
total impact of the accident.. The Belt does not allow for any
give (shock obsorbsion) The breast plate is so movable, that
a child can reposition it. Making it more like a knife..

There are materials that can help absorb some of the impact other
than the body.. Please let me know when they make a truly safe
car seat... Bill Tow