Car Seat Safety: 5 Myths Debunked

Get to the bottom of child car seat safety and make sure your kids are riding like pros.

It’s summertime and school is out! For kids, this time of year is about tossing back a few juice boxes and getting on the move. There’s no shortage of sandboxes to visit, birthday parties to crash, and petting zoos to be terrified of.

Of course, your kids aren’t getting anywhere without their trusty chauffeurs — that’d be you, Mom and Dad. And it might be time to ask yourself: Am I up to date on my car seat safety knowledge?

There are more misconceptions about child safety restraints than you might think. Let’s clear up 5 of the most common child car seat myths and help you start your kids’ summer off right.

Car seat safety myth 1: securing a child car seat is hard to screw up

Actually, a recent IIHS study confirms that properly securing your child car seat is really easy to screw up. In particular, failure to use what’s called the “top tether” is a major issue. This top tether, a strap that connects the top of the car seat to your vehicle’s rear shelf, helps prevent a car seat from tipping forward in an accident and causing injuries to your toddler’s head and neck.

Sadly, nearly half of drivers aren’t using this key safety item. Reasons for neglecting the top tether range from parents not knowing it exists, not knowing how it works, or feeling like they don’t have time to bother with it. What’s more, of the drivers who do use the top tether, 31 percent are using it incorrectly. Take the time to familiarize yourself with the LATCH system (Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children) in your car and avoid these needless missteps.

Car seat safety myth 2: I never had a child car seat, and I survived … my kids are fine without them.

According to the CDC, child safety seats reduce infant fatality risks by 71 percent and toddler fatality risks by 54 percent. For kids aged 4 to 8, riding in a booster seat reduces injury risks by 45 percent compared to using a seatbelt alone. If you never had a child car seat growing up and came out unscathed, you were very fortunate — but it really wasn’t the safest move. No need to play those unlikely odds with your own youngsters.

Car seat safety myth 3: my infant can use a forward-facing car seat

A forward-facing car seat isn’t safe for kids until they’re over the age of 2. However, many infants outgrow their baby seats (the first one a child uses) before turning 2, and so their parents mistakenly believe this makes them ready to face forward.

A better option could be the convertible car seat. Convertible seats are convenient because they’re big enough to accommodate your growing infant and they can face either backward or forward. When your child is actually ready for the bodily direction of big boys and girls, you can avoid the hassle of buying a whole new seat.  

Car seat safety myth 4: after the toddler stage, kids don’t need a child car seat

It’s easy to assume that once your child starts acting more grown up, he or she is ready to ditch the child car seat. But you might be surprised to know that experts at the NHTSA recommend keeping kids in booster seats up until age 12. The booster will raise them up so seatbelts fit snugly (and safely) around the thighs and chest, rather than the face and stomach.

Car seat safety myth 5: all child car seats are the same, so it doesn’t matter which one I choose

Cars seats can differ wildly in their ease of use, the way they fit your child, and their compatibility with your car. Since kids need a safe car seat for their very first ride home from the hospital, it’s important to try out a few models well in advance.   

For help finding the right child car seat, check out the NHTSA guide.

Related links

Get more interior-based insight: find out which (adult) seat is really the safest in your car.

5 Responses to “Car Seat Safety: 5 Myths Debunked”

  1. Avatar for Alex Glenn
    Michael Green
    June 17, 2013 #

    Useful article for parents who are interested in their child's safety. Understanding how to install and use the baby car seat goes a long way for a safe travel at all times.

  2. Avatar for Alex Glenn
    November 5, 2013 #

    You mention several studies in this. You site none. This is either soft plagiarism or simply unacceptable writing. Please fix it.

    • Avatar for Alex Glenn
      January 14, 2014 #

      Cite, not site. When you complain about someone else's writing, be sure yours is up to par.

  3. Avatar for Alex Glenn
    Linda Holland, formerly certified NHTSA carseat technician
    February 25, 2015 #

    Excellent points which need to be taken seriously. One thing to note though, the 'top tether' is for use ONLY with forward facing seats. A rear facing seat is designed to rock back and forth in a crash situation, to absorb force of impact in a crash situation, indeed, a tether to the back of the car's seat would would serve no purpose at all in this position.

  4. Avatar for Alex Glenn
    Linda Holland
    February 25, 2015 #

    Oh, and the picture is terrible. The straps over the shoulders should be snug enough that they cannot be pinched, allowing only one finger breadth between strap and shoulder. And the breast piece, which should be at armpit height is missing. These two factors contribute to a situation where the 'hole' formed by the straps and carseat is large enough that the infant might easily be ejected out the top with sufficient force from a crash.

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