Thursday, January 17, 2013

Car Seat Safety Series -- Part 5 Correct Harness Use

I 'm happy to be offering the 5th installment in the Car Seat Safety Series, written by Megan Arce, CPST (Certified Child Passenger Safety Technician) and mother of two little princesses.

Correct Harness Use

My last blog post focused on car seat installation errors, and this week I’m keeping it short and sweet with a quick reminder about harness use, since part of the 90% misuse rate among car seats also falls into this category. 

My last blog focused on car seat installation errors, and this week I’m keeping it short and sweet with a quick reminder about harness use, since part of the 90% misuse rate among car seats also falls into this category.

1. The harness should be tight.  How tight? As us technicians say, “snug as a hug.”  To be more specific, the harness should pass the “Pinch Test.”  When your child is in the seat with the harness pulled tight, using your pointer finger and thumb try to grab a hold of (or pinch) the straps directly above the chest clip.  If you are unable to pinch any excess strap, then you pass the test.  If you are able to grab a hold of and hang onto any extra strap, then you need to pull them a bit tighter.   Children who are not used to being properly secured may object to the new tightness of their harness, but they will get used to it.  In my vehicles, the opposite is true- my 4 year old will object if the harness isn’t tight enough as all she has ever known is a snug harness and she clearly prefers it this way.   If a harness is loose, in the event of a crash, the child will move around significantly and very forcefully in their seat,  and likely even be ejected from it. 

2.  No twisting of the straps is allowed. Every single time a car seat is used, the straps need to be checked to ensure they are making a straight line from the top harness slots, all the way down to the lower slots.  If ever a twist occurs (this is guaranteed to happen at least once in every car seat’s life span), the twist needs to be corrected immediately.   It may seem like a minor glitch, but each twist in the strap compromises the child’s safety greatly.  The webbing is designed to distribute forces in a particular way and the twisting restricts it from being able to do that properly, which, in turn, is dangerous for the child.


3.  Harness straps need to be adjusted to the proper height.  For a rear facing infant/toddler/child, the straps should come out of the car seat right AT or right BELOW their shoulders.   A rear facing child will “ramp up” or ride up the back of the seat and the tightly hugging harness will help keep the child anchored in the seat.  For a forward facing car seat,  the straps should be right AT or right ABOVE the child’s shoulders.   If the straps are too low, crash forces can cause the straps to compress down onto the child’s shoulder, injuring their spinal column.  If you are unsure of how to adjust the height of your child’s seat, consult your owner’s manual for instructions. 



4.  Chest clip needs to be on the child’s chest.  It is called a chest clip for this reason.  It is not called a belly clip and it does not belong on your child’s abdomen.  In fact, in a crash your child would likely suffer great internal injuries from this clip if it is on their belly.  One major purpose for the chest clip is to hold the harness in the correct position over the child’s shoulders.  If it is not in the properly location, a shoulder strap can easily slip off the shoulder and the child is at risk for ejection.  The proper placement is armpit or nipple level, whichever is easiest for you to remember.  Personally, I like to think of it as a “bikini top” and that works for me!  A visual guide is offered on many brands of car seats to indicate proper placement as well. 




5.  Crotch buckles often need adjusting too!  Most car seats on the market allow for multiple crotch adjustments, both for the child’s comfort and for their safety, of course. In general, we like to see the buckle closest to the body as possible, without the child sitting on it.  Depending on the car seat, some crotch buckles have their whole own set of rules, which can be found where? Yep, in your owner’s manual!  

6.  Car seats do eventually get outgrown.  Yep, your child WILL continue to grow, even if you will them not to.  Be mindful of the height and weight limits of your child’s seat, as each seat has it’s own limit.  A rear facing seat is outgrown when there is less than 1” of room from the top of the child’s head to the top of the shell of the car seat, or when the child has surpassed a specific height or weight limit in rear facing position.  A forward facing seat is outgrown when the child’s shoulders are above the highest harness slot opening, when the child’s ears are above the top of the shell, or when they exceeded the weight limit of the harness.

7.  Only use product that came with your car seat or are “okay’d” by your car seat manufacturer as per the owner’s manual. All the other infant head supports, snuzzlers, strap covers, car seat covers, etc., are considered “After Market Products.” These products have not been safety and/or tested for use in your seat, they could interfere with the basic operation of the car seat (therefore inhibiting the seat/harness itself to fully protect your child), and could void the warranty of your seat if used.  Bottom line, if it did not come with your seat, don’t use it! The only exception to this rule is that all car seats allow for the use of rolled receiving blankets as infant support- but please read the section in your owner’s manual explaining how to use this system properly before doing it!

INCORRECT: After Market Products

Starting good car seat habits from day one is ideal, obviously, but it’s never too late to adopt these safety habits and start using our car seats properly, because when you know better, you do better!

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