Car Seat Safety: 22 Safety Experts Share Their Top Tips to Keep Your Child or Baby Safe in a Car Seat

by SSF | Last Updated Mar. 4th, 2016

While specific car seat criteria will vary from state to state, every state in the U.S. requires child safety seats for infants and children in some capacity. And aside from being a great safety precaution intuitively, the benefits of effectively utilizing a car seat for your child’s safety is statistically significant as well.

In fact, according to the CDC’s Fact Sheet on Child Passenger Safety, the use of a car seat reduces the risk for death to infants (aged 1 year and under) by 71%; and to toddlers (aged 1–4 years) by 54% in passenger vehicles.

Since the use of a car seat is by far one of the most crucial safety precautions a family with small children can make, we here at Safe Sound Family wanted to learn even more about car seat safety, from car seat selection, installation and proper usage. To do this, we asked 22 parents and car safety experts to answer this question:

“What’s your #1 car seat safety tip for new parents to keep kids and infants safe?”

We’ve collected and compiled their expert advice into this comprehensive guide on car seat safety for parents. See what our experts said below:

Meet Our Panel of Car Seat Safety Experts:


Grainne-KellyGrainne Kelly

Grainne Kelly is a Family Travel Expert and Founder of the BubbleBum inflatable car booster seat. Grainne is a former travel agent who revolutionized the child travel industry by inventing BubbleBum: the world’s FIRST inflatable booster seat. Safety is a prime element of a child’s health, and the BubbleBum ensures that kids stay safe and comfortable throughout all car trips.

When it comes to car seat safety tips for new parents, my #1 piece of advice is…

Moving to the next car seat stage should not be viewed like a crawling milestone– be sure not to progress too early or you would be compromising your child’s safety.

A child should be kept in the 5-point harness seat until he reaches the upper weight limit of that seat. Both the age and weight requirements should be considered before moving on to a booster seat, which should be over 40 lbs and over 4 years old.


Jeff BoyerJeff Boyer

Jeff Boyer is the Vice President of Global Vehicle Safety for General Motors.

My number #1 tip for parents when it comes to child passenger safety is to…

Make sure your children are secured in car seats or booster seats that are appropriate for their age and size, on every ride.

For example, booster seats are designed to protect children who are too big for a car seat but too small for a seat belt alone. Without a booster seat, seat belts don’t fit children properly until they are at least 57” (4’9”) tall and weigh between 80 and 100 pounds.For all infants and children to be seated in car or booster seats.

The GM Foundation recently partnered with Safe Kids Worldwide to release a study for 2014 Child Passenger Safety Week. The survey of 1,000 parents of children ages 4 to 10 found that seven in ten parents don’t know the proper height and weight for a child to ride in a vehicle without a booster seat. In fact, in practice, nine out of ten parents move a child from a booster seat to a seat belt too soon! This was surprising of course, but also telling. Most parents just don’t know the safety facts, and we at the GM Foundation, along with Safe Kids, hope to change that.


Haynes M. StudstillHaynes M. Studstill

Haynes M. Studstill is a nationally recognized child injury attorney and mother of three children. Her law firm, Studstill Firm, LLP is located in Valdosta, GA, where she also serves as a Board Member on the Lowndes County Chapter of Safe Kids Worldwide.

When it comes to car seat safety for new parents, the most important thing to know is…

That your baby is safest in a rear-facing infant seat in the back seat of your vehicle for as
long as possible.

Most parents cannot wait until the baby reaches its first birthday to turn the car seat around and see that smiling face in the rearview mirror. But safety experts recommend that parents wait as long as possible before turning the child around to face forward – usually until closer to the child’s second birthday.

This is because the child’s muscles and bones are not quite strong enough to withstand the forces of a rear-end collision (one of the most common types of collisions) when they are forward facing until they are closer to that 2nd birthday. A rear-facing seat will provide the most protection for a baby’s head, neck and spine.

Also, while different states have different laws regarding what age children can ride in a vehicle without the aid of a child’s safety seat or a booster seat, it is important to note that these laws are usually the minimum standard. It is always best to continue using a booster seat or a safety seat until the child reaches the maximum height or weight for that seat – even if this goes beyond the age limit set by your state’s laws. Children ages 2 to 5 who use safety belts prematurely are four times more likely to suffer a serious head injury in a crash than those in child safety seats or booster seats.

Finally, the rear seat is always the safest place for kids. Children should always ride in the rear seat until they are at least 13 years old. And remember – always buckle up yourself and set a good example for your little ones.


©Rebecca Emily DrobisCherlyn Jenkins

Cherlyn Jenkins is the mom of 4 and 2 year old sons, a Certified Child Passenger Safety Technician, and the designer and manufacturer of the Cozywoggle, a car seat safe coat.

My number one car seat safety tip for new parents is to…

Remove bulky coats and clothing from your child before placing them in the car seat.

Bulky coats affects how tightly the harness fits on the child. During an accident the coat will compress to nothing leaving space between the child and the harness. This puts the child at greater risk of injury and even possibly ejection from their car seat.

A parent may use blankets, ponchos, thin fleece jacket, or a specially designed car seat safe coat, the Cozywoggle to keep their children warm and safe while traveling in cold weather.


Greg DurocherGreg Durocher

Greg Durocher is a father of three (ages 8, 7 and 2.5) and has been a Child Passenger Safety Technician Instructor for 12 years. He spent 13 years as a career firefighter/paramedic and is now the CEO of Safe Ride 4 Kids.

The number one car seat safety tip I would give parents is to…

Keep their children in a rear-facing child restraint for as long as possible.

Studies show it is five times safer. Although many state’s law still say rear-facing until 1 year old, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends keeping children rear-facing until they are at least 2 years old. We as child passenger safety technicians recommend as long as possible which means –depending on the child and the restraint– it could be until about 4 years old.


Dawn YanekDawn Yanek

Dawn Yanek is the Founder and Blogger at Momsanity and the proud mother of a very adorable, very bouncy toddler who keeps her on her toes. In a former life, she was an on-air spokesperson for Life & Style Weekly, a columnist and senior editor for Stuff Magazine, and a contributor for Match.com and ESPN2’s Cold Pizza. She has also logged countless hours in the entertainment industry, appearing in more than 2,500 TV and radio segments, discussing lifestyle, relationships, celebrity news, fashion and pop culture.

My top safety tip for new parents to keep their kids safe in the car?

Make sure that the car-seat buckle is snug, secure and in the right spot.

My biggest surprise when researching car-seat safety for my son was that you needed to take off baby’s winter coat before buckling him in. In the dead of winter, the last thing you want to do is take off your squirmy, cranky, possibly flailing child’s warm coat to strap him into his seat…so you might just let it go. But you can’t. Because if you get into an accident, he won’t be properly secured or properly protected. Yes, you’re freezing. Yes, it’s a pain to get your kid out of a coat before a car ride and then back in one after it, but you have to do it.

Doing this also lets you really see where the chest strap should go: Right across the middle of the chest, in line with your baby’s armpits. If you have it too high or too low, an impact could cause serious damage to your child’s internal organs. Keeping the straps loose doesn’t make your child more comfortable; it just makes him less safe.

As I see it, what’s the point of having a car seat if you’re not using it properly? Just like you can’t be “a little pregnant,” you can’t be “a little safe.” Either you’re safe or you’re not. And when it comes to our kids, safe is the only way to go.


Bryn MacKinnonBryn MacKinnon

Bryn MacKinnon is the Senior Editor of car-shopping site, Edmunds.com, and a mother of two. She has been in publishing since 1996, at Edmunds since 2008. She loves knowing her work helps folks get the right car for their needs at the right price.

My number one car seat safety tip for new parents is to…

Double-check your work by getting your child’s car seat inspected by a certified car seat safety technician. Check NHTSA’s child car seat inspection station locator (http://www.safercar.gov/cpsApp/cps/index.htm) to find a car seat inspection station in your area.


Julie McCaffreyJulie McCaffrey

Julie McCaffrey is the new Chief Brand Officer of PishPoshBaby.com, the high-quality store that supplies the facts and advice, along with the right choice, to parents who are completely lost in the whirlwind of baby gear. Julie has the task of leading the brand image and customer experience while ensuring and overseeing marketing, advertising, design, public relations, and customer service teams all follow along.

Here is my car seat safety advice for new parents…

If you want to determine whether your child doesn’t need a car booster seat anymore, do the 5-step test:

  • Can he sit with his back against the vehicle seat?
  • Do his knees bend at the edge of the seat?
  • Is the lap belt low on the top of the thighs?
  • Does the shoulder belt sit between the neck and shoulder?
  • Does the child not slouch or lean out of the seat belt?

If the answer is a solid ‘yes’ for each of these questions, then he doesn’t need a car booster seat anymore.


James BregenzerJames Bregenzer

James Bregenzer is a Serial Entrepreneur and a new parent. James and his wife celebrated the birth of their son on September 4, 2014. Learn more about James and is his work at his personal website, http://james.biz/.

In regard to car seats, my best advice for expecting parents is…

After you’ve read all the reviews and selected the car seat that works best for you and your family, make sure you take it out of the box and get it assembled a couple weeks before your due date.

They all seem pretty easy to use–but they’re not as obvious or straightforward as I was originally expecting. Especially given all the other things going on after a child is born, it was a huge help being familiar with how the car seat works and how to get it in and out of the backseat.


Barbara BirkenshawBarbara Birkenshaw

Barbara Birkenshaw is the Child Passenger Safety Advocate for Volkswagen Group of America and is an active member of the SAE Child Restraints Subcommittee, the ISO Working Group as well as the Alliance LATCH Working Group. She formerly served on the National Child Passenger Safety Board as the vehicle manufacturers’ representative. In addition, Barbara serves as a company representative on the Center for Child Injury Prevention Studies (CChIPS) Industry Advisory Board. At Volkswagen Group of America, she ensures that vehicle development and design direction is provided through interpretation of regulations pertaining to the KT Safety Act, child passenger safety, and any additional Federal/Canadian Motor Vehicle Safety Standard, as deemed necessary.

My #1 car seat safety tip for new parents to keep kids and infants safe is…

READ THE OWNER’S MANUALS.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has a great website dedicated to child passenger safety. A new easy-to-use tool, “Car Seat Finder,” has just recently been added to help the caregiver select the recommended car seat type that fits a child according to NHTSA’s best practice recommendations. [Source: http://www.safercar.gov/parents/Car-Seat-Finder.htm]

In order to ensure that the caregiver truly understands the workings of the correct car seat with his/her vehicle, it is of the utmost importance that both car seat and vehicle owner’s manual installation instructions are read and adhered to, and that all applicable warnings are heeded because, frankly, not one owner’s manual is the same.

Differing car seat installation instructions may be found in child height/weight limits, carry handle position, aftermarket products use, lock-off use, exact installation angles, installation restrictions with inflatable seat belt, etc., to name a few.

The manufacturer should be contacted if further information and/or clarification is needed. Another option would be to have the car seat checked by one of the 35,000+ certified child passenger safety technicians in the United States [Source: http://www.safercar.gov/cpsApp/cps/index.htm.]


Kristie Reeves-CavalieroKristie Reeves-Cavaliero

Kristie Reeves-Cavaliero, Pharm.D. is the President of Ray Ray’s Pledge.

My #1 child passenger seat safety tip for new parents isn’t necessarily a car seat tip, but I feel it is extremely important for parents who regularly bring their small children into a car, and it is to…

Always lock your car door and create an absence verification plan with your childcare provider.

Here is a little background on why me and my family volunteer our time to prevent an often unrecognized/ commonly misunderstood danger to child passenger safety known as vehicular heatstroke.

First, note that vehicular heatstroke is the #1 non-crash related cause of fatalities for kids under 14. Also, forgotten childcare drop off is the #1 source of child vehicular heatstroke.

We lost our child, Ray Ray, in this manner 3 years ago and subsequently developed a prevention program in her honor, Ray Ray’s Pledge. Our program is a dual commitment to safety and arrival confirmation by BOTH parents and childcare providers during this high-risk time of day for heatstroke tragedies.


Meagan RossMeagan Ross

Meagan Ross is mom to two boys who make sure her life is never dull. She is the Owner of STOLA, where she designs breastfeeding apparel to help women feel confident and comfortable in their choice to breastfeed. She lives in Toronto, Canada. Learn more at STOLA.

My #1 car seat safety tip for new parents to keep kids and infants safe is something that I make sure to do myself, which is…

I always make sure the chest clip is level with my sons’ armpits: any higher and you risk choking, any lower and they can get their arms out, as my older son was quick to show me when I was driving solo and couldn’t stop to fix it. I learned my lesson and always make sure the clips are at the right level before starting the car.


Don MarksDon Marks

Don Marks is the CEO of the #1 franchise in car locksmithing, Pop-A-Lock, and has more than 35 years experience originating and expanding franchise business systems to drive explosive franchisee growth and profit, while greatly improving customer service. Pop-A-Lock is also a proud sponsor of PALSavesKids™, a FREE community service program offered by Pop-A-Lock saving children locked in cars.

My #1 car seat safety tip for new parents to keep kids and infants safe is to…

Practice Pop-A-Lock’s public service program, PAL Saves Kids, which reminds busy caregivers to be hyper-vigilant of their children’s presence during the hot summer months and approaching winter months through a new call-to-action: PALSaves 1-Stop, 2-Look, 3-Lock.

They also encourage caregivers to practice the PAL exchange by leaving a valuable item in the backseat, such as your purse or wallet, drawing attention to the backseat prior to exiting the vehicle and ensuring children aren’t mistakenly left in the vehicle. If you do lock your child in your car, first call 911, then your local Pop-A-Lock for their public service program which will unlock your car for free.


Coleen ChristianColeen Christian

Coleen Christian is a mom and writer of the mom blog by Coleen.

In my group of friends I’m known as “the car seat whisperer.” Here is my advice to new parents…

My trick to getting a car seat snugger than anyone else, is to actually push down with my own body weight.

No matter how tight myself or my husband pulled, and no matter how tight the seat seemed, when I actually climbed into the car to sit next to the car seat, put my weight on it and pressed it down, I was surprised by how much looser the belt became and how much further I was able to secure it.


Lara KretlerLara Kretler

Lara Kretler working mom of a wonderful 4-1/2 year old and mom blogger at Lara-mom.com.

My #1 car seat safety tip for new parents to keep kids and infants safe is to…

Make sure there are NO hanging/dangling or loose straps that can accidentally slip out of the car door unnoticed.

I blogged about my experience here and it was absolutely terrifying:
http://lara-mom.com/2012/01/18/a-terrifying-lesson-in-carseat-safety/

Thank God my daughter wasn’t in her carseat at the time! As you can read from the comments, this has happened to others so it is a definite concern worth thinking about.


Sarah SkirpanSarah Skirpan

Sarah Skirpan is a Media Strategist at Dick Jones Communications and a mom of two kids under three-years-old.

My #1 car seat safety tip that I constantly repeat to my friends and family is to…

Find a certified car seat expert at your local police station.

In my case, our expert is a police officer who we met through our baby care class. Every time we switch car seats (as our kids grow out of them), we schedule an appointment to have the officer do it for us. Also, when we’ve gone on long car trips for vacation, we schedule a check up to make sure the car seats are safe for our drive. It’s completely free and takes only a few minutes.

Secondly, I always take the time to fix the straps if they’re twisted. The car seat expert/police officer who spoke to our baby care class told us that if a car seat strap is twisted, the strap loses 30% of its hold. That’s a large percentage!

And lastly, I never put my children in heavy, puffy coats in the car seat. The police officer/car seat expert also told us that when a child wears a heavy or puffy coat, the seat straps aren’t as close to the child’s chest, and leaves room for the child to physically slip out of the car seat if ever in an accident. We wear our “car coats,” which are warm but thin coats, going to and from the car.


Michael T. IrvinMichael T. Irvin

Michael T. Irvin is a Registered Nurse and Healthcare Consultant, LinkedIn Publisher, Author, and CEO and President of MLTC Consulting, a nationwide healthcare consulting company. He has been featured in The New York Times, WSJ, ABC News, and Monster.com, and has written over 45 books available at Amazon Books under Michael T. Irvin.

Being an nurse who has worked in ER and seen a lot of injuries due to car accidents and a father of 5 daughters, I can say that I know a lot about car safety for kids and infants. My number one tip is for parents to…

Actually pull on the child’s seat belt to make sure that it is properly buckled.

Many times parents assume that just because the child or infant is in a car child seat that this is sufficient. By getting into the habit of “pulling after snapping” parents will better insure the safety of their children when traveling in a car.


Janet GroeneJanet Groene

Janet Groene is the Author of Living Aboard Your RV, 4th Edition and Editor at http://www.SoloWomanRV.blogspot.com/.

My #1 car seat safety tip for new parents to keep kids and infants safe is to…

Know your vehicle, not just the car seat.

Most of us use the same car seat in a variety of vehicles: yours, your spouse’s, Grandma’s, the baby sitter’s, and so on. The more unusual the vehicle, such as a camper or the day care’s transporter, the more important it is to know how to anchor the seat safely. Call the local police or fire station and ask if their trained personnel have a program for checking out parents on safe car seat use.


Brenda D. PriddyBrenda D. Priddy

Brenda D. Priddy is a freelance writer and blogger, mother to 2 girls, and an advocate of children’s safety. She blogs about children’s education and green living at Schooling a Monkey.

Aside from making sure the seat is installed properly (so many parents have improperly installed seats!), the next most important tip for car seat safety is to…

Make sure the belt itself fits properly.

Also, children should sit rear-facing until at least their second birthday. For rear-facing children, we never allow ours to eat while the car is moving to prevent choking hazards.


Jordan PerchJordan Perch

Jordan Perch is an Analyst at DMV.com who specializes in automotive safety. He is a regular contributor to the DMV.com’s collaborative community for US drivers, and many other consumer sites.

When it comes to car seat safety, the key thing for ensuring your kid’s safety is…

Making sure the seat is installed and positioned correctly.

Before you start installing a child safety seat, you have to read the instruction manual first. The most important thing to remember is that the seat has to be in a rear-facing position, in the middle of the back seat, which is considered to be the safest position, because this way, the child gets better protection during a side-impact crash, and the risk of sustaining serious injury to a child’s neck, head or spine, is significantly reduced.

Children should be kept in a rear-facing car seat until they turn 2, and then they can be seated in a forward-facing seat.


Caroline TanakaCaroline Tanaka

Caroline Tanaka is a Publicist and Co-Founder of Tidy Tote.

My #1 car seat safety tip for new parents to keep kids and infants safe is to…

Remember to never sacrifice safety for your child’s superficial comfort.

I think as parents we want our children to be comfortable in whatever situation, so when he/she doesn’t want to wear pants, we change them into shorts, or when the they don’t want to wear sneakers, we let them wear sandals but I feel like when it comes to their safety, we, as parents should not budge.

I remember when my daughter would complain about the 5-point harness on her car seat being too “tight.” I didn’t do anything and day after day she would complain but then one day the complaining stopped.

I checked her seat and the harness was so loose! My husband loosened it for her! I told him how unsafe it was for her to be in a loose harness and how we as parents need to do what’s best for them even if they don’t like it! So anyway that’s my advice.


Ross TraversRoss Travers

Ross Travers is the Director of C&A Mackie, a firm who has been providing solutions to the general motor insurance market since 1990, using their expertise to develop products which deliver complete insurance solutions.

As a parent, one of the most important jobs you have is protecting your child, especially when riding in a moving vehicle. Every year, hundreds of children are involved in accidents due to use of improper car seats, all of which could be easily avoided by…

Buying the correct model.

The type of car seat you need depends on the age and size of your child and the type of car you drive, so it’s often easy to get it wrong. Consider asking a professional for advice, it is also always worth double-checking with your insurance provider as well. Be aware that you may also have to buy more than one car seat as the child grows, or if you change the type of car you drive.

Parents should be warned that foreign car seats, which are imported from China, can often fail safety requirements and should not be used. Crash testing studies report that the seats rip apart on impact at 30mph, catapulting a dummy the size of a three-year-old through the front window of the car.

How to spot a fake

The illegal foreign car seats have no manufacturer’s label and are usually sold online via retailers such as eBay and Amazon. To avoid counterfeits, make sure to buy from a well- established manufacturer and look out for a safety guarantee. For extra peace of mind, most good retailers will offer an extra service where you can get an expert to fit the seat for you post purchase. This ensures that it is perfectly suited to your child’s size, allowing for comfort, while at the same time meeting the safety requirements.

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