Parent places infant in child car safety seatNew parents’ number one priority is to keep their children safe. That mission begins in earnest the moment they leave the hospital with their newborn baby in a car seat. But the truth is many parents incorrectly install child car seats or make other critical mistakes when choosing and using a child car safety seat.

In 2015, 248 children under age 5 were saved by their car safety seats, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). At the same time, car accidents are a leading cause of death for children ages 1 to 13. Correctly used child safety seats can reduce the risk of death by as much as 71%, according to Safe Kids Worldwide. The organization says three out of four car seats are not used or installed correctly.

There’s a lot to know about car safety seats, so here’s an introduction and some resources to help you learn more.

Did you know there are several different types of car seats? There are rear-facing only/infant car seats, forward-facing seats, and various kinds of booster seats. There also are convertible and all-in-one child safety seats that allow children to stay rear-facing longer, and combination seats that transition from a forward-facing seat with harness to a booster.

The type of car seats your child needs will change as she grows. Use the car seat that fits your child’s current size and age, and don’t promote her to the next type of car seat as long as she can safely stay in her current seat. Parents seem eager to move their children from a rear-facing seat to front-facing seat, and from a five-point harness to a booster seat. It may be easier to see their adorable faces as you drive, or faster to buckle and unbuckle them, but in a car crash, this convenience can turn to tragedy.

Similarly, don’t graduate a child from a booster seat to just a seat belt too soon. He must be tall enough to sit with his back against the seat back, knees over the edge of the seat and feet flat on the floor, and the belt must sit in the right places before you get rid of the booster seat. And keep him in the back seat at least through age 12, NHTSA says. The impact of an air bag deployed in an accident can kill or seriously injure children.

Safety experts say you should follow federal recommendations over state laws when it comes to keeping your kids in various types of car seats. See NHTSA’s car seat guidelines here.

Be aware not all car seats fit in all cars or trucks. Test car seats for fit before buying them. When installing a car seat (which can be tricky), read not only the seat’s instruction manual, but your vehicle’s manual, as well.

In Southeast Minnesota, Mayo Clinic conducts classes and clinics at Rochester locations to help expectant parents and those who want to be sure the car seats they already have are properly installed. Here are links to Mayo Clinic’s Infant Passenger Safety Class and Car Seat Installation Inspection Clinics.  You also can click this link to use NHTSA’s Car Seat Inspection locator tool. Inspections are performed by certified technicians.

It’s important to replace car seats after a moderate or severe accident, and you may not want to use a hand-me-down car seat, either. You may not know whether a used seat has been involved in an accident.* It may not have labels that would allow you to learn whether there’s a recall on the car seat, and it may be missing its instruction book.

Finally, a word about winter clothing for our Minnesota, Wisconsin and Iowa families: The American Academy of Pediatrics urges families to find alternatives to bulky coats and snowsuits when children are riding in cars. The force of a car accident can create space between harnesses or seatbelts and little bodies when there’s extra padding between the strap and the child, and the child can be thrown from the seat. Follow the AAP’s instructions here to keep your child both warm and safe in cold weather.

“Think About It.” Personal injury attorney Jim Suk has shared the message of avoiding dangers that can result in injury or death since 1988. People who suffer personal injury or lose a family member through someone else’s negligence turn to Suk Law Firm, which has the resources and a proven track record for achieving optimum recoveries. Suk Law Firm provides compassionate and respectful representation and listens to clients’ concerns, responds to their questions and keeps them informed and up to date about the progress of their case.

Besides Rochester, we serve the following major southeast Minnesota cities: Red Wing, Winona, Mankato, Austin, Albert Lea, and Owatonna, and all outlying communities, as well as the cities of Minneapolis, St. Paul, Duluth, and Bloomington. We also serve the Iowa cities of Mason City, Charles City, Osage, Spencer, Garner, Forest City, and Northwood and the Wisconsin cities of La Crosse, Onalaska, Sparta, Viroqua, River Falls, Ellsworth, Whitehall, and Black River Falls.

*A note about language:

Federal agencies involved in traffic safety have banned use of the word “accident” for more than 20 years, and with good reason. However, we use the word “accident” on our website, even though we know it has implications that run contrary to our professional thinking and training, because we recognize that “accident” is the word most commonly used in online searches when people are looking for help after being injured in a crash. If you’d like more information about this topic, please see our blog, “Car Accident or Car Crash?”