Sergeant Brent Aiken of the Connecticut State Police visited the in North Branford on April 13 to discuss car seat safety. The topic has again been brought to the forefront of parents’ minds as the American Academy of Pediatrics recently recommended that “All infants and toddlers should ride in a rear-facing car safety seat until they are two years of age or until they reach the highest weight or height allowed by their car safety seat’s manufacturer.”
After parents sang songs and read books with their babies and toddlers for the regularly scheduled program, Aiken went over some of the ins and outs and do’s and don’t of car seat installation and use.
“The only way these seats work properly is if they’re used properly,” said Aiken, who has specialized in car seat safety for the last nine years.
It is important to choose a car seat that works with your car. Car seats vary in shapes and sizes, as do the back seats of the vehicles where the seats must be installed.
Once you find a car seat that fits your car, you should check the car’s manual for recommended placement of car seats and the weight limit of the LATCH (lower anchors and tethers for children) system. Properly installing the seat can seem like a daunting task, but most police departments – including – offer installations.
After the car seat is installed, your child must be properly harnessed. When rear-facing, the straps should come from at or below the shoulders and when forward-facing, the straps should come from at or above the shoulders.
When the straps are buckled – being sure they’re not twisted as a twist causes the pressure to go to that area in the event of a crash and could cause a break – the chest clip should be raised to the armpit level and then the straps should be tightened enough that you could squeeze just two fingers flat between the strap and the child’s clavicle.
Most importantly, according to Aiken, is knowing the height and weight limitations of your car seat and using it properly. While Connecticut state law says children "younger than one year or less than 20 pounds in a rear-facing restraint system; one through six years who is less than 60 pounds in a child restraint system (booster seats may only be used in a seating position with a lap and shoulder belt)", Safe Kids Connecticut and the AAP recommend more. Click here for their five 'best practice' recommendations.
Aiken also warned against using hand-me-down car seats as any type of prior accident, even the slightest fender bender, could damage the integrity of the seat. If you are ever involved in an accident, car seats must be replaced and your seat belts should be, as well.
“Seatbelts are made to be good for one accident and after that, you should get new retractors,” said Aiken. “Also, if you’re ever in an accident, insist your child not be removed from the seat until he gets to the hospital.”
Quick Car Seat Safety Tips
- Follow all weight and height instruction posted on side of car seats.
- In a five-point harness, the straps cannot be twisted.
- Straps should be tight and the chest clip should be at armpit level.
- Don’t use accessories. “If it didn’t come with the seat, it doesn’t belong there,” said Aiken.
- Don’t use window shades as they are made with metal bars that can cause a threat in an accident.
- Secure all loose items in the car as they can become airborne in an accident.
- Be sure the handle of infant carriers are released all the way back while driving.
- When switching to a high-back booster, be sure the child is tall enough that the seatbelt crosses his shoulder and does not lie on his neck.
To have your car seat checked out by the North Branford Police Department, make an appointment with Officer Lenny Popolizio by calling 203-484-2703.