18 Dec
2015

Keep Your Kids Safe This Holiday Season (and, Fine, Other Times Too)

One of my least favorite things about holiday travel is having to take the car seats with us when we fly. Hauling them through the airport is the pits, but reinstalling them on the other side is, I think, best described by Dante in his little-known account of the tenth ring of Hell, in which a smug parent is doomed for eternity to fruitlessly search for the LATCH clip in the cramped backseat of a four-door sedan while contorted such that her spleen is now touching the backs of her front teeth. And it’s snowing outside and her butt is getting cold.

I think we can all agree that the physical installation of car seats is terrible all around, but perhaps the worst part for me was that even when it was all over and done with, I was always left with the sinking feeling that I might not have done it correctly. Did I manage to somehow attach the seat to the car using some clips and straps? Sure. But did I use the correct clips and straps, and did I use them in the right way? Who knows. And here the not knowing was even worse than the doing.

Cue the experts, who not only perform the physical labor of car seat installation with smiles on their faces and at no cost to you but who also recently showed me how to do it all myself, so now I can clip my kids into cars with confidence and know I’ve done my very best to keep them safe.

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This post is sponsored by AAA and was written in support of its 10th annual Child Car Seat Safety program. You can get a free one-on-one car seat inspection at a AAA near you, and I can’t think of a single reason not to take them up on that. Do it; you might save a life.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, there’s more to proper car seat use than making sure your kids are clipped in correctly. So while I congratulate you on your perfectly perfect strap height and chest clip positioning, your commitment to rear-facing, and the fact that you never let your kids wear puffy winter coats while in five-point harnesses, remember that keeping your kids safely in their seats is only half of the equation; the other half is keeping their seats safely in the vehicle.

It’s no exaggeration to say that when I had my appointment with the AAA inspectors, I was shocked at the things I was doing incorrectly. I am proportionally glad to have fixed them. Since much of what I learned was relevant to my specific seats, vehicle, and kids, though, I’m going to keep the following list broad while encouraging you to get your own one-on-one inspection. Click on safeseats4kids.aaa.com to get that process rolling, and then read on for tips you can act on today.

1. Read the manual. It might not be a page-turning best-seller, but I guarantee it will be illuminating. Had I read the manuals for my kids’ seats, I might have known that there were entire straps and clips for optimal installation that I never even knew about. Fox’s seat is a hand-me-down from Wombat, and one of the essential straps was still bundled in its secret compartment as neatly as it was the day it left the factory some time in 2009. Yikes.

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2. Check your expiration dates. Speaking of which, when I went for my inspection, one of the first things that happened was the techs informing me that Fox’s seat was set to expire in six weeks. I’d always operated under the vague notion that as long as the seat hadn’t been in an accident and wasn’t old enough to go to college, it was fine to use. As it turned out, Fox still fit his seat just fine, but it was about to pass beyond the manufacturer’s recommended timeline of use. Learn from my mistake and check the expiration dates on your seats now so you don’t show up for your inspection appointment with a seat you’ll need to replace pretty much immediately.

3. Dispose of old, damaged seats properly. I took along to my inspection a third car seat we’d been given by a friend and hoped to use as a backless booster for Wombat. The tech took one look at it and then used her most polite and professional voice to tell me, basically, “Ummmmm, no.” The seat had long since expired (it was printed right there on the sticker on the bottom of the seat), and it needed to be thrown away. The important information she passed along was that when disposing of a car seat, remove the padding and cover and throw the pieces away separately so no one can come along, reassemble it, and put an unsafe seat back into circulation. Sometimes the plastic part can be recycled, so look into that as well.

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4. Don’t assume more is better. Quiz time! Which is better: Installing your car seat with the seatbelt or using the LATCH system? Answer: Trick question. Neither is better for all kids in all seats in all vehicles, so take the time to learn what’s right for you. LATCH has a maximum load limit at which it’s no longer as safe as using the seatbelt, which is designed to handle the weight of an adult. (Guess who was using LATCH past that recommended limit?) It’s also possible to over-tether your car seat, so don’t just use all the straps you can find and figure you’ve earned yourself an A+ for going the extra mile. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions if you want your seat to perform like it does in crash tests.

5. Clean your car. This isn’t strictly related to car seat installation, but it’s important and something you can take care of without professional assistance (maybe). Listen: Every loose item in your car is a projectile, and in the event of an accident, they might go flying and do some serious damage. So, okay, your kid is properly secured in his properly installed seat, but if you have, say, a set of steak knives rattling around on the floor of your car, consider taking them out, or at least moving them to the trunk. Secure all loose items for the safety of everyone in the car, including yourself.

6. Don’t go on autopilot. I know it feels like you’ve been a parent forever (especially on the days no one naps), but don’t let that make you lazy about something as important as car seat safety. If your last car seat check was when your first kid was a newborn, you’re overdue for another. Every time find yourself with a new car seat, or in a new car, or even driving with a new kid–whether because he’s grown into a new body or because you’re transferring the same seat down the line of siblings–it’s time for a new check. When it comes to car seats, don’t make the mistake of thinking one size fits all.

7. Read all about it. Here’s AAA’s list of Top 10 Car Seat Mistakes and How to Fix Them.

I know this is a lot to keep track of, but the good news is that the awesome experts at your local AAA can help you through it all. They will pull out their Giant Manual of All Things Car Seats, which will give you specific information on how your seat interfaces with your vehicle and your children, and they will not only make sure everything is installed correctly, they’ll teach you how to do it yourself in such a way that you can feel knowledgeable and confident instead of like an incompetent noodle. And they will do all this for freeeeeeee. *Oprah voice*

If you’re in Northern California, Nevada, or Utah, find your car seat inspection location here. If you’re somewhere else, you can use this link to search for AAA resources in your area.

Please take special care when installing and reinstalling and re-reinstalling car seats this holiday season and beyond. Do it because it’s easy and important and it could save your child’s life. There’s a lot we can’t control in this world, but there’s also a lot we can; let’s keep our kids safe.

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All photos courtesy of AAA and Ian Chin Photography.

By    1 Comment     Posted in: Regular Entries, Sponsored


1 Comment

  • I miss reading your stories and seeing your photos. Are you going to return to writing?

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