As personal injury lawyers, we see first hand the effects car accidents have on families. While any one accident can be traumatic, the most devastating often involve children who have been injured or worse. While car accidents can’t always be prevented, the risk of injury or fatality to children can be significantly decreased with the proper restraint system. If car seats are installed incorrectly, however, the consequences can be severe.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 723 children, 12 and younger, died as occupants in motor vehicles in crashes in 2016 and more than 128,000 were injured. Of those fatalities, 35 percent were not properly buckled. This is why it’s so important for parents, guardians, and caretakers to understand the significance of choosing and installing a car seat.
Common Car Seat Installation Errors
There is a number of mistakes that can be made while installing a car seat, especially if it’s for the first time. While reading the owner’s manual thoroughly is the best way to avoid improper installation, it’s also a good idea to know what mistakes are most commonly made.
- Loose Installation. A properly installed car seat should not be able to move more than one inch in any direction. To avoid a loose installation, grip the seat at or near the belt path and make sure there is minimal movement. Readjust as necessary.
- Incorrect Shoulder Strap Positioning. The shoulder straps must be threaded through the slots that are at or below the child’s shoulders for a rear-facing seat. For a front-facing seat, the straps should be at or above the child’s shoulders.
- Loose Harness. To avoid a harness that is loose while buckled, perform the pinch test. Test the snugness by pinching extra material at the top of the child’s shoulders. If there is extra webbing, the harness isn’t tight enough.
- Improperly Routed Seat Belt. Convertible safety seats have multiple slots for routing the seat belt during installation to work for rear and front-facing car seats. Be sure to check the instruction manual to ensure the seat belt is properly routed based on how the car seat is being used.
- Not Using the Top Tether. Car seats can be further optimized by using the top tether strap. Check both the car seat’s manual and your vehicle’s manual to find out how to tightly attach the seat’s top tether strap to the correct anchor point in the vehicle.
The Dangers of an Improperly Installed Car Seat
A car accident can cause a number of severe injuries to a vehicle occupant; however, when a small child is involved in a wreck, the injuries they suffer can be much more catastrophic. When car seats are improperly installed, the following injuries can be sustained:
- Back and spinal cord injuries
- Broken or fractured bones
- Internal injuries
- Traumatic brain injuries
- Mild to severe burns from the car seat straps
The only way to minimize the chances of a child suffering from one of the injuries listed above is to ensure they are in the right car seat and that the car seat has been installed properly. While most aspects of a car accident are out of the victims’ control, it is important to prepare in whatever way possible.
How to Choose the Right Car Seat
When choosing a car seat, you’ll need to consider the child’s age and size. We’ll break down which seats are appropriate depending on those classifications based on information from the Mississippi State Department of Health:
- Infants/Toddlers. All infants and toddlers should ride in rear-facing seats until they reach the highest weight or height allowed by the car seat’s manufacturer. For most seats, this will be at least until the child is two years old. These are the safest car seats for children.
- Toddlers/Preschoolers. If a child has outgrown their rear-facing seat, they’ll need to be moved into a front-facing car seat. This seat should have a harness. A change will need to be made when they are too big based on the manual’s description.
- School-Aged Children. A child will move from a front-facing seat to a booster seat. This will ensure the vehicle’s seat belt is positioned properly. Children will typically need to be at least 4 feet, 9 inches tall to ride in a vehicle without a booster seat.
- Older Children. Children 12 and younger should always sit in the back of the vehicle. Make sure they always use a seat belt and are wearing it correctly.
Once you’ve chosen the right car seat, you’ll need to make sure you properly install the restraint system. You should always read the owner’s manual. If you have questions, you can contact the manufacturer, the child’s pediatrician, or local law enforcement.
We understand how traumatic auto wrecks can be, which is why we’re here to provide you with the legal representation you deserve in the event you find yourself trying to recover from one. To find out about your legal rights and options, contact our Biloxi car accident lawyer.