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Go Ask Mom

Is your child's car seat installed properly? Tips from an expert

Posted October 11
Updated October 12

Despite car seat safety progress, 2015 was deadly year for kids in car crashes

Let's start with the good news first: When they hop in the car, most kids, ages 8 and under, still use a car seat or booster seat.

In a 2015 report, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration found that 94 percent of babies to eight-year-olds were restrained in those safety seats.

But, even though we have those seats in our vehicles, many of us parents still are using them all wrong. In fact, the same report found that 46 percent of car seats and booster seats aren't properly used.

This misuse happens most frequently with forward-facing car seats - 61 percent aren't installed properly. About 50 percent of rear-facing infant car seats; 44 percent of rear-facing convertible car seats; 24 percent of backless booster seats; and 16 percent of high back booster seats also aren't used the right way.

These figures likely are no surprise to Chris Morris, a retired state trooper with the N.C. State Highway Patrol, who joined UNC Rex Healthcare in 2003 as a certified child passenger safety instructor.

Morris estimates that he has installed or inspected more than 40,000 car seats since he began in 1983, and has won several awards for his work. Today, he teaches free, two-hour child passenger safety classes for expectant parents at the REX Women’s Center.

He also inspects car seats at the REX Women’s Center entrance, from 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., weekdays. Appointments are not necessary, but you can call 919-784-1802 to verify that he’s on duty. Rex has a handy pamphlet in PDF form with some tips.

Morris will participate in a Facebook Live video interview at 10 a.m., Wednesday (Oct. 12), on Go Ask Mom's Facebook page. He'll be talking about car seat safety and fielding your questions about what's best for your child.

When Morris inspects car seats, he said parents often aren't even aware that they are doing anything incorrectly.

"Mostly, I see a car seat that’s just wrong, with several things wrong, and the parents don’t know that there’s a problem," he said.

Common mistakes, Morris says, include car seats and straps that aren’t tight enough; use of the wrong seat for the age, weight and size of the child; the wrong position in the car (rear facing vs. forward facing); and using too many belts to attach the seat.

But it's critically important to get right. Car seats - especially when they are used properly - save lives. Just consider these numbers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:

  • Car seat use reduces the risk for death to infants by 71 percent and to toddlers, ages 1 to 4 years, by 54 percent in passenger vehicles.
  • Booster seat use reduces the risk for serious injury by 45 percent for children, ages 4 to 8 years, when compared with seat belt use alone.
  • For older children and adults, seat belt use reduces the risk for death and serious injury by approximately half.

Exactly what kind of seat your child needs and how they should be installed varies widely - depending on your child's age and size and even the kind of car you drive.

SaferCar.gov, American Academy of Pediatrics and Buckle Up NC has more information. And be sure to join us at 10 a.m., Wednesday, on Go Ask Mom's Facebook page, when you can learn more from Morris and ask questions.

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