The 5 Best Car Seat Safety Tips

Car Seat Safety
Take your own car seat on trips. Photo courtesy Britax

Protect your most important- and vulnerable – occupants: your children.

Once you have made sure that your car and its tires are safe to hit the road, you need to ensure that your kids are are in the proper safety seats and those seats are correctly installed.

Toyota, a partner in the national car seat safety program Buckle Up for Life, notes that according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), three quarters of car seats are incorrectly installed.

But that’s not the worst part of it.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) lists crashes as one of the leading causes of death among children. Car safety seats help mitigate or prevent injury in the event of a collision, so many of these fatalities are avoidable.

To help keep children as safe as possible, Buckle Up for Life – which provides free car seats to needy families – offers these life-saving car seat safety tips.

Car Seat Safety

Proper installation is the key to keeping the little ones safe. Photo: Courtesy Britax

1. Always use the “Inch Test” and the “Pinch Test”

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. For the “Inch Test”, grab the car seat from 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.

2. Never add towels or extra layers between the seat and your child

Car seats can get hot in summer weather, but don’t pile up towels in your child’s seat to keep them cool. Extra material could interfere with the seat’s ability to restrain the child in the event of a crash, so it is important to only use accessories and products specifically approved for use by the seat’s manufacturer.

Car Seat Safety

A properly installed car seat didn’t keep his two front teeth from falling out, but it will keep him safe. Photo: Jennifer Acocella for AGirlsGuidetoCars

3. Take time to cool off; then buckle up

If the car seat is hot because of high summer temperatures, take some extra time to cool the car down before placing your child in the seat. Test buckles to ensure they are not hot, and if they are, open the windows or turn on the air conditioner before buckling children in. Never leave children alone in the car, especially in the summer when temperatures can escalate dangerously in a matter of minutes.

4. Don’t rent a car seat

If you are renting a car this summer, use your own car seat. When you rent a seat, you don’t know important facts about its history that could affect its ability to protect your child (e.g., expiration date, crash history, etc.). The good news is that most airlines allow you to check your car seat for free.

5. Secure loose items in the car

Make sure all loose items – including summer travel essentials such as beach chairs, coolers, umbrellas and suitcases – are tightly secured in your vehicle. These objects could become projectiles in the event of a crash.

Judy Antell, who is's Free in 50 States editor, lives in Park Slope, Brooklyn, with her husband and... More about Judy Antell