Parents and caregivers buckle their children into car seats carefully selected based on the child's age and size. However, the right seat does not completely guarantee a child's safety in the event of an auto accident. You also need to properly install the seat, something that's often a struggle for parents and caregivers.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) maintains that about three out of every four car seats are installed improperly. An even greater number of seats are improperly installed in communities lacking car seat safety checks or educational programs.
Deaths of children in car seats declined to 397 in 2011* from 614 in 2002, but auto safety experts assert that easier-to-use car seats with better instructions on how to strap them into vehicles could decrease those numbers even more.
Since 2000, regulators have attempted to simplify the confusing process of car seat installation. They began by introducing a latch system, eliminating the need to loop the seat belt through the car seat. Then automakers were required to provide anchors and fasteners at the top of seats to provide a more secure fit.
However, many parents still only use seat belts to install car seats, and experts say this is a dangerous mistake. It increases the likelihood that in the event of a collision, a child's head could move forward enough to hit the back of the seat in front of them, potentially resulting in brain and spinal injuries.
Which party is responsible for ensuring the proper installation of car seats? Is it the NHTSA, the automakers, or the car seat manufacturers? These various organizations disagree on where the responsibility lies, putting more children at risk.
Officials realize that consumers may not know how specific car seats match up with the equipment in their vehicle, and the NHTSA is trying to combat this. They are working on a new program that encourages automakers to recommend the most appropriate child seats for use in each of their models.
This presents problems for automakers, who maintain that while they work to accommodate a wide range of child vehicle restraint systems, the task proves difficult due to the vast differences among car seat designs. Automakers claim that progress in this area is unlikely unless car seat manufacturers unify to minimize variations between car seat designs.
Since the NHTSA, automakers, and car seat manufacturers disagree on the right course of action to ensure proper car seat installation, the responsibility falls on various safety groups and local government agencies.
Since vehicle designs and car seat models frequently change based on advances in technology, safety advocates urge parents to seek help from a car seat specialist at a safety program to find the right seat and to make sure it's properly installed.
Car seat inspection programs are typically held at local fire or police stations throughout the country, and may offer car seat checks as often as five days a week. Parents can visit these inspection stations to verify that they have correctly secured their car seat.
For more information on selecting the right car seat for your child: