If you're in a vehicle, a car seat is the safest place for Baby. But even the best seat loses its ability to protect your child if it is not installed correctly.
The NHTSA estimates that over 85 percent of car seats are not properly installed. To alleviate this problem, several government organizations and car seat manufacturers are working to make car seats as safe and as easy to install as possible.
NHTSA Ease of Use Rating System
The NHTSA provides a five-star ratings system that allows parents to evaluate brands and models for ease of use and safety. Seats are judged on whether they require assembly after purchase, the clarity of the labels, the clarity of the instructions, the ease of securing Baby into the seat, and finally the ease of installation. The NHTSA offers detailed reviews of each seat, too. The ratings are available at nhtsa.gov.
The LATCH System
Another innovation in car seat safety is the LATCH, or Lower Attachments and Tethers for Children. This system involves not only changes to the construction of car seats, but also to vehicles. Cars with the LATCH system have a metal bar mounted between the vehicle’s rear seatback and cushion, and parents attach the seat to this bar using special buckles. Because no seatbelt is needed, it easier to install car seats properly and securely.
As of September 1999, many cars included the LATCH system, and all forward-facing child seats were required to include a top-tether system. By September 2002, all cars were required to have the LATCH system, and all child seats were required to include both a top tether and a lower anchor.
However, the 2007 Consumer Reports' findings state that some car seats performed better when attached by car safety belts than when attached with the LATCH system. Additionally, in late 2006, the NHTSA conducted a survey which found that 40 percent of parents continue to use their car's seat belt when installing car seats. The survey also found that many parents are unaware of the importance that their LATCH system tethers when installing car seats (only 55 percent of parents used the top tether). “LATCH was supposed to simplify child safety seat installation for parents and this study shows that isn’t happening.” says NHTSA Administrator Nicole R. Nason. She adds, "We need to find a way to make the devices better known and easier to use." Look for more information coming soon from the NHTSA.
Overhead Car Seat Shields
Overhead shields are available in some convertible car seat models, but they may pose dangers in a collision because a toddler’s head can hit the shield. According to Consumer Reports, these seats should be avoided.
It often seems like a great idea to entertain your child with toys while she is strapped into her seat, but loose toys can be hazardous in a car accident. Make sure travel toys are soft with no sharp corners. A block or book flying through the air at high speeds can be very dangerous. In fact, any loose objects (umbrellas, handbags, water bottles) should be tucked away safely while you are driving.