Estimated read time: 4-5 minutes
SALT LAKE CITY — Here's an alarming number: 59% of parents do not install car seats correctly, according to data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
Child Passenger Safety Week has new meaning for me personally as I'm expecting my own little baby in just a few short weeks.
Intermountain Primary Children's Hospital is offering virtual car seat checks during the pandemic to help parents do it the right way. I set up a video call with car seat technician Michelle Jamison to walk me through it from my own home.
I found it was helpful to have a second adult with me in person to juggle both my phone and the car seat.
Jamison taught me how to install my car seat using both the latch and seatbelt options. She helped me attach the base and ensure it was level and secure. She listened for the proper "clicks" and watched me as I double-checked the security of the seat.
"When they're newborn, we worry about the integrity of their airway so we want to make sure that they're between 30 and 45 degrees reclined," she taught me.
Jamison answered my questions as a first-time parent and helped me practice clipping the car seat in and out of the base several times.
Jessica Strong with Primary Children's Hospital recommends a car seat check for everyone, not just first-time parents.
"There are so many different vehicles and so many different car seats out there. There's a lot of questions and confusion and so having a certified car seat check can be really helpful just to give parents that peace of mind that they're doing it securely and their child is safe," she said.
Strong says virtual car seat checks are a big advantage for families who live in more rural areas and don't have readily available access to certified car seat checks in person.
She says meeting with a certified technician will help parents avoid common mistakes, "like having the harness straps not tight enough or not having the chest clip in the right place," Strong described.
In the event of a crash, Strong says the car seat won't adequately protect the child if it isn't installed properly.
"Nobody thinks they're going to get into a crash. But unfortunately, these things happen so we want to make sure that your kids are properly installed in their seat to be the safest they can," she said.
She encourages parents to refer back to both their vehicle and car seat manual. "If you have any questions, that's a good first place to start," she says.
Jamsion reminded me to keep my car seat rear-facing for as long as possible and discouraged me from switching it to front-facing even if my baby's legs and feet start to hang out of the seat as they grow.
She also told me my child needs a new car seat when they either reach the maximum height or weight limit — whichever one comes first. In some cases, she says a child can be rear-facing in a convertible car seat until they are 3 or 4 years old. She urged against using aftermarket products, like a mirror to see your baby, which could become projectiles in a crash.
Strong says it's important to know the expiration date of your seat. "Car seats do expire. The plastic and the materials used can degrade and wear down over time and so it's important that you're not using an expired seat," she explained.
She discourages people from using a secondhand car seat unless they know for certain it hasn't been involved in a crash. If you have been in a crash, Strong encourages parents to call Primary Children's Hospital to learn if it's still useable.
"Sometimes there can be damage to the seat that you can't see visibly, but it's important to figure out if you need to get a new seat or not."
Strong also urges parents to fill in and mail the safety seat registration card to the manufacturer of the car seat so the parents will be notified in the event of a recall.
"If for some reason down the road, there is a recall, that's how the manufacturer will notify you so that you can either get it fixed or get a replacement car seat," she explained.
If you're still not confident about whether or not you've properly installed your car seat, you can call the experts at Primary Children's Hospital.
"If you have any other questions really though, you can call us," Jamison told me. "You're good to go. You got this!"
Jamison gave me the encouragement I needed to feel more prepared for my little baby to soon arrive.
For those interested in setting up a virtual car seat check, call Intermountain Primary Children's Hospital at 801-662-6583 to make an appointment or visit primarychildrens.org/safety for more information.
Parents will need a phone, tablet, or computer with a camera to participate.