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Don't make the biggest carseat mistake

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Posted: Monday, June 28, 2010 12:00 am | Updated: 10:23 am, Thu Mar 31, 2011.

One of the primary goals of being a parent is keeping your children safe. There are many guidelines to follow in and around the home. However, safety should also extend to the family car.

As the weather warms and family travel and vacation season is in full swing, families are likely to spend more time on the road. Ensure young children are safe by avoiding these commonly made mistakes regarding child safety seats.

1. Using an old seat. There's no escaping the fact that safety seats can be costly. In an effort to save money, many people purchase seats from yard sales or take hand-me-down items. This could prove to be a safety mistake. Older seats may be compromised, in that they could have been involved in an accident and damaged. Also, after about five years, plastic tends to weaken and could be compromised. What's more, previously used seats may be missing important usage instructions and parts. If you do use an older seat, be sure that the instruction manual is included, and try to limit the seat to no more than five years old. Many have an expiration date stamped on the bottom.

2. Improperly securing the seat in the car. A safety car seat is only as good as how well it is secured inside of the vehicle. Most vehicles today have the LATCH (lower anchors and tethers for children) system. This enables you to use a combination of upper and lower attachment points to secure the car seat instead of having to use the vehicles safety belt. However, the seat must fit snugly inside the car. Some parents have mistakenly left it loose or have forgotten to secure the car seat at all. Consult with the owner's manual for proper routing of tethers. Many police or fire stations are also approved checkpoints for safety seats and can assist you with the installation of the seat.

3. Failure to buckle in the child. Many children do not like being restrained in a safety seat and can have a meltdown when placed in the seat and being buckled in. In an effort to save their sanity, some parents forgo strapping in the child during short trips. This is not only dangerous, but it can prove deadly. Always buckle in a child, even if it means a temper tantrum.

4. Switching to front-facing too soon. Children should ride in a rear-facing seat until at least 12 months of age and 20 pounds. However, the one-year mark and the weight are the bare minimum. If your child can still sit comfortably rear-facing and the safety seat can accommodate his or her weight, continue to leave the child in this position. A child's head is large and neck muscles are weak. In a forward-facing seat, should the vehicle be involved with a front-impact accident (most common), the child's head could be thrown forward and result in a spinal injury. Rear-facing helps cradle the head and neck better.

5. Letting a child ride in the front seat. Front air bags are designed with an adult in mind. The smaller stature of a child can make the air bags, designed to prevent injuries, actually cause serious ones instead. It is recommended that a child ride in the back until he or she is 13 years of age or older.

6. Allowing two children to share a seat belt. All passengers in the car should use one seat belt per person. It is possible for two children who are buckled together to knock heads in an accident, with potentially fatal consequences.

Take vehicle safety seriously and be sure to use safety car seats in the correct manner every time.

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