How Many of These Car Seat Myths Do You Believe?
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- Once my child turns 2, they no longer need to be rear-facing.
- Car seats don’t really expire.
- It’s safe to use a secondhand car seat.
- My child is uncomfortable in their rear-facing seat!
- My rear-facing child will break their legs in a car accident.
- Expensive car seats are the safest.
- It’s unsafe to install a car seat with the seat belt.
- Using the top tether is optional.
The truth is, babies don’t need a ton of things (looking at you wipe warmer and designer shoes). But there are a few baby items that are clearly must-haves, like diapers, a safe sleep space, and a car seat. In fact, every state requires that all babies be in a car seat when they check out of the hospital. There’s a good reason for it: Correctly securing your baby in a child restraint decreases their risk of a fatal injury by 71%. For toddlers, the risk of death is more than halved. The kicker, of course, is that these statistics are based on using car seats correctly and, sadly, between 46 and 95% of car seats don’t meet that criteria due to improper installation and/or inaccurate use. While improper installation can easily be rectified with a visit to a child passenger safety technician in your area, inaccurate use often stems from long-held car seats myths. Find out if you inadvertently believe any car seat myths that might be putting your little one in danger.
Car Seat Myth #1: Once my child turns 2, they no longer need to be rear-facing.
False! The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends all children remain in a rear-facing car seat as long as possible, which means until your child reaches the highest height or weight allowed by the manufacturer of their car safety seat—which can be as high as 40 to 50 pounds. A clue your little one is getting too big for their rear-facing car seat is when their head nears the top of the seat. There should be at least one inch between the top of your bub’s head and the top of the rear-facing car seat. Keeping children rear-facing as long as possible saves lives. In fact, rear-facing car seats offer the best protection against the most dangerous injuries, which are to the head, neck, and spine.
Car Seat Myth #2: Car seats don’t really expire.
Just like the milk that’s been in your fridge too long, car seats really, truly do expire! In general, car seat expiration dates range from five to 10 years from the date they were manufactured. Experts note that time, temperature, and exposure to hot and icy temperatures can easily weaken key parts and materials of your baby’s car seat. Plus, expiration dates help to ensure that children are in car seats that are up to the most current safety standards.
Car Seat Myth #3: It’s safe to use a secondhand car seat.
While there’s nothing inherently dangerous about strapping your baby into the same car seat your sister used for their child, it is dangerous to use a car seat when you don’t know the seat’s history. That’s because a car seat that’s been involved in a moderate to severe crash should never be used again. Some car seat manufacturers extend that discontinue-use advice to car seats involved in any accident, no matter how minor. To ensure you’re not unwittingly putting your baby in an unsafe car seat, never use one that’s been acquired from a garage sale, a community swap or buy-sell group, a flea market, or a second-hand store. And never borrow a car seat from someone you don’t know, either. Remember: You can’t always tell if a car seat has been involved in an accident by looking at it.
If you do borrow a car from a trusted family member or friend, make sure…
The car seat is not expired.
The car seat is not recalled.
The seat has a label with the date of manufacture and model number.
There are no visible cracks.
You have the proper instruction manual.
There are no missing or broken parts.
Car Seat Myth #4: My child is uncomfortable in their rear-facing seat!
Babies and children love to put themselves in cockeyed positions! Toddlers sleep with their bums in the air. Preschoolers read upside down. The fact is, children’s joints are way more flexible than adults in order to help keep them safe while they’re learning to walk and explore the world.
So, just because a position seems uncomfortable to you, does not mean your child is uncomfortable. Experts assure that even if your child folds their legs up like a frog or stretches them up straight, it remains 100% safe to keep them rear-facing as long as they fit the height and weight requirements of their car safety seat.
Car Seat Myth #5: My rear-facing child will break their legs in a car accident.
Leg injuries to children who ride rear-facing are “very rare,” according to the AAP…and that holds true even for children whose legs bend or touch the back of the vehicle seat while strapped in. It’s also true that sitting in a rear-facing car seat is the safest choice even when a vehicle is rear-ended. Researchers from Ohio State University note that, when used correctly, rear-facing car seats effectively absorb crash forces while controlling the motion of the child, no matter which direction impact comes from. Bottom line: Turning your child forward-facing too soon is what actually increases their risk of leg injuries.
Car Seat Myth #6: Expensive car seats are the safest.
False! While some pricier car seats may have added features that appeal to you, a higher price doesn’t necessarily mean the car seat is safer or easier to use, according to the AAP. Since all certified car seats are required to meet the same federal crash test standards, there’s no need to feel guilty about choosing a car seat that’s less expensive. What truly makes your car seat safe is properly restraining your child and correctly installing your car seat. To find the car seat that works best for your family, check out our car seat buying guide.
Car Seat Myth #7: It’s unsafe to install a car seat with the seat belt.
If used correctly, installing your baby’s car seat with the seat belt is just as safe as installing it with the lower anchors of the LATCH (Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children) system. The key is knowing which is best for not only your particular car seat, but your vehicle, too. Check your car seat instruction manual to see if there’s a preferred installation method for your seat. At the same time, see if there’s a weight limit for using the lower anchors. Next, flip through your car manual to learn about the installation options in your vehicle. Finally, no matter which method you land on, it’s important to use just one. That means do not install your car seat with lower anchors and the seat belt at the same time.
Car Seat Myth #8: Using the top tether is optional.
All forward-facing child restraints made since 1999 have a built-in top tether that needs to be utilized, whether you use a seat belt or LATCH’s lower anchors to secure it, according to the AAP. The tether is usually located behind the upper back of the car seat and is then anchored on the vehicle’s rear shelf, seat back, floor, cargo area, or ceiling. This important top tether significantly reduces your little one’s risk for head and other injuries in a crash and should never be considered optional. Even so, research shows that only half of car seats were attached by the top tether—and most parents don’t think it’s necessary.
More car seat tips:
- The Only Car Seat Safety Checklist You Need
- Dr. Harvey Karp on How to Stop Car-Seat Struggles
- Is It Safe for My Baby to Sleep in a Car Seat?
Car Seat Toys Your Tot Will Love
- The Nemours Foundation, Nemours KidsHealth: Bringing Your Baby Home
- Safe Kids Worldwide: Child Passenger Safety
- American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP): Car Seats: Information for Families
- Mary Bridge Children’s: Myths & facts: What you need to know about car seat safety
- Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia: Car Seat Safety: Newborn to 2 Years
- Safe Kids Worldwide: Ultimate Car Seat Guide
- Car Seats for the Littles: Rear Facing Car Seat Myths Busted
- Rear-Facing Child Restraint Systems in Rear Impact Sled Tests, SAE Technical Paper. 2018
- AAP: Car Seat Installation Information: Seat Belts & LATCH
- Insurance Institute for Highway Safety: Key child restraint strap is often overlooked, misunderstood by parents
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Disclaimer: The information on our site is NOT medical advice for any specific person or condition. It is only meant as general information. If you have any medical questions and concerns about your child or yourself, please contact your health provider.