Car Seat Safety: How Much Do You Know?

Car seats used properly can save your child's life. Child restraints save hundreds of lives and prevent thousands of injuries each year.Do you know how to safely use your child’s car seat? That one parenting skill can save her life.

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC)[1], car seats saved the lives of 328 children ages 4 years and younger in 2016. In addition, compared to using seat belts alone, properly used child safety restraints reduce the risk of injury to children by 71 – 82%. Those sound like good reasons to make sure you are an expert in car seat safety, don’t they?

If you are involved in an accident, you’ll want to make sure you did all you could to keep your child safe.  Is it time to check your car seat safety skills? Compare what you do now with the statements below.

My child has a car seat.

Minnesota law requires all children who are both under age 8 and shorter than 4 feet 9 inches tall to be fastened in a child safety seat that meets federal safety standards.[2]

If you cannot afford to buy a car seat, you can find a Free Car Seat Distribution Facility near you.

Is a used car seat safe?

The Minnesota Office of Traffic Safety says,“Yes, as long as the seat is not more than six years old; it’s free of recalls; has not been involved in a crash; all the labels are on the seat; the instruction manual is present; you know the individual who previously owned the seat; and you know the history of the seat. Purchasing seats from garage sales and re-sale shops are not recommended.”

Watch for signs of damage: cracking, torn straps, etc. These can compromise your child’s safety. No matter how much money a second-hand seat might save you, it can never console you for injury or death to your child.

Are there places where I can get a free car seat?

As of this writing, there are these options in our area:

  • Redwood County: Parents insured by UCare or Blue Plus can visit Southwest Health and Human Services to sign up for a car seat safety training. Once you’re pre-authorized, you’ll make an appointment to view a safety video then go over the features of your new car seat with a trainer who will then supervise you as you install the car seat in your vehicle. Then the seat is yours.
  • Renville County: Make an appointment at Renville County Public Health in Olivia.
  • Brown County: Make an appointment at Brown County Public Health in New Ulm.
  • Lyon County: Make an appointment at Southwest Health and Human Services in Marshall to receive training and a car seat.
  • Parents insured by PrimeWest may also find car seat programs in Renville and Pipestone.
  • Find Minnesota locations here.

My child’s car seat or booster is the correct size and style for her.

As your child grows, her car seat will need to change with her.

From birth through toddlerhood (ages 2 – 4), she will be best protected when buckled into a rear-facing car seat in the back seat. Pay attention to the maximum weight and/or height limits of her car seat as described in the owner’s manual.

Why use a rear-facing seat as long as possible?

A child in a forward-facing seat is much less protected in the event of a crash than a child who is rear-facing. This dramatic video will show you what we mean.

Once she outgrows the rear-facing seat, put your child in a forward-facing car seat until she is at least 5 years old. Again, keep her in the back seat. And read the owner’s manual on her seat for its weight and height limits.

When she is too big for that car seat, use a booster seat, still in the back seat of your vehicle. Booster seats help position your child more safely within your car’s seat belt, which is designed to fit an adult.

For more details on which car seat is best for your child, go here.

When is a seat belt alone all right?

“Seat belts fit properly when the lap belt lies across the upper thighs (not the stomach) and the shoulder belt lies across the chest (not the neck),” according to the CDC. “Proper seat belt fit usually occurs when children are about 4 feet 9 inches tall and ages 9 – 12 years. Remember to keep children properly buckled in the back seat for the best possible protection.”

I know how to attach the car seat to my vehicle.

Car seats may be attached by using your vehicle’s seat belts, or using the LATCH system.

LATCH, for Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children, is a system that works with anchor points built into your vehicle. Using the LATCH system makes it much easier to install child car seats safely.

Car seat diagram shows lower anchors and top tether used in LATCH system.

In a LATCH system, you attach the top tether from the car seat to the tether anchor in the vehicle. The lower anchor attachments on the car seat attach to the lower anchors in the vehicle.

Learn how to use the LATCH system here.


If you’d like help learning to install your child’s car seat, contact a Child Protection Safety Technician near you.

No one wants to be the parent whose child’s car seat tumbled out of the car going around a corner. Watch that scary video here.

I know how to buckle my child into the car seat correctly.

I can do the Pinch Test.

When your child is buckled into her seat, you should not be able to pinch any of the strap above her shoulder. Your fingers should slide right off the webbing.

The Pinch Test shows if you have your child's car seat straps fitted properly.

I know where clip should lie across my child’s chest.

If the chest clip (“retainer clip”) sits at the level of her armpit, you’ve got it right.

For more great tips (and videos) on getting the right fit, check out this site.

I know what to do in the winter.

Bulky winter clothes and blankets can keep car seat straps from holding your baby securely in her seat. Take off winter coats or snowsuits and blankets. Buckle your child into the car seat without them, and lay them on top to keep her warm.

I never put my child in front of an air bag.

Air bags were designed to protect a male adult. Watch this video to see what happens when an air bag deploys against a child.

Even if your child’s seat is rear-facing, getting hit by an air bag will injure your child. Need proof? Watch this.

Looks like I’m all set.

If your car seat safety knowledge met all these guidelines, you’re in good shape. And best of all, you’re giving your child the best possible chance of staying safe even if you’re in an accident. Good job!


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