If You Know Nothing About Car Seats….

….don’t talk about car seats! I am to the point where I have to avoid reading threads about car seats on forums and comments sections on blogs that mention car seats. The ignorance is astounding, and the people who know the least about car seats are always the first to comment. If we were talking about what type of coffee to drink in the morning or which shoe designer is best, it wouldn’t bother me. But car seats? When you spread ignorance and myths about car seats, you could kill a child.

I would actually love it if more people talked about car seats. I would just prefer that they do some decent research first. Or, if they’d like to argue about things like expiration dates or why brands cost what they do or when a child has outgrown a seat or when it’s appropriate to turn a child forward-facing, it would be awesome if they could at least take the CPST certification class first and put in a few years of work in the trenches so they know of which they speak.

So, I’m going to use my blog as the lovely, venty space it was intended to be for a few minutes. I won’t comment on those forums or blogs any more, because it only makes my head feel more explodey. Here are a few of the most common gems on the internet, along with my usual responses.

- We never used car seats as kids and we lived! We got to ride on the back dash!
Yes, so did I. We were lucky, because there were a lot of other kids who didn’t live. In fact, I know a guy whose sister was killed when someone rear-ended them while the two kids were laying in the ultra-desirable back of the station wagon. Still today, car crashes are the number 1 cause of death for young kids. We’ve come a long way, but there is a ways to go yet.

- The expiration date is just a way for car seat manufacturers to make more money.
I’m not a scientist, so I can’t explain exactly how and when the plastic parts of your child’s car seat break down. But they do. Take a look at this crash test video – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wvCRz7BRAM0 . That’s a 10 year old Britax car seat. Please note that the straps break through the back of the car seat shell on impact, allowing the test dummy to fly almost completely out of the seat. If I can keep that from happening to my child, I’d pay the car seat manufacturers a hell of a lot more than I do now.

- My pediatrician said I could turn my 6-month-old forward-facing because she has good neck control / can sit up / etc.
First things first… your pediatrician probably didn’t study car seats in medical school. Peds are notorious among child passenger safety advocates for giving the worst car seat advice. The American Academy of Pediatrics does have statements about car seat issues. If your pediatrician isn’t recommending that you follow at least the minimum standards that AAP suggests, I’d find a new doctor. Children are so much safer when rear-facing. It’s not a happy milestone to turn forward-facing. Head control or ability to sit up has nothing to do with how your child’s body can handle crash forces. Babies’ heads are so big and heavy compared to the rest of their bodies, and when they sit forward-facing, their head can move forward so much more in a crash. More movement means more injury. Look up internal decapitation if you really want to know why I recommend rear-facing for as long as possible.

- My baby’s legs were sticking over the edge of the car seat, so I turned him around. I didn’t want his legs to break in a crash.
Ahhh, I know this one so well! I heard this, too, when my daughter was one! Here’s what the EMT who helped me install her convertible car seat told me about it. “In a crash that is severe enough to break her legs, there is also a chance of other very serious injuries. Would you rather her break her legs or her neck, if you had to choose?” Touche, Mr. EMT. I got the point. And for the record, I don’t know any CPSTs who have actually heard of a child’s legs being broken because they were rear-facing.

- More expensive car seats are pointless. You’re just paying for a name and a pretty cover!
I used to believe this one, too. :) As a CPST, my job is to tell people that all car seats on the U.S. market meet the same safety standards, and that the best car seat is the one that fits your baby and your vehicle, and that you will use correctly every time. And that is true. However, to understand why so many CPSTs find the high-dollar car seats to be worthwhile, you have to look a little further. Those safety standards (FMVSS213)? They say that all car seats have to be crash-tested at 30mph on a bench seat, frontal crash only. Some manufacturers *only* do that test. Other manufacturers test frontal, rear, side impact and rollover collisions. But crash tests are expensive, so those costs have to be recouped through the car seats. For me, knowing that my child’s car seat has been tested beyond the minimum is a must, because not all crashes are 30 mph frontals. Convenience features also can add to cost. Things like cupholders or a more attractive cover aren’t worth the cost to me, but built-in lockoffs, extra EPS foam and increased side-impact protection, easy to use LATCH hooks and non-twisty straps are worth every penny. Those things make the car seat perform better in a crash and make it easier to install and use correctly.

- This custom cover / seatbelt tightener / strap pad is crash tested! It says it meets FMVSS 213!
Accessory manufacturers love to tell parents that their products are crash tested or that they meet all applicable federal safety standards. The tricky thing is, FMVSS 213 does not say anything about aftermarket accessories. There are no crash test standards for a custom car seat cover. They could throw it against a wall and it would meet the current, nonexistent standards. A can of Spam could be labeled to meet and exceed FMVSS 213. The easiest, safest route is to avoid using any car seat accessory that didn’t come with your car seat, or that isn’t provided by the seat manufacturer. Using aftermarket stuff can void your car seat warranty and absolve the manufacturer of any liability if the seat fails in a crash. Some accessories, like custom covers, can interfere with the function of the car seat if they don’t fit the harness strap slots perfectly or add padding underneath the child that could compress in a crash, leading to a loose harness. Custom covers are rarely flame-retardant, either, which could pose a big problem in some types of crashes.

- It’s so stupid that states are making kids sit in boosters until they’re 8.
Considering that real world crash data showed that kids in the 4-8 age group were still being injured quite often, I’d say it wasn’t stupid, but smart. Vehicle seatbelts are made for adult men. They can’t work if they don’t fit. Boosters help the seatbelts fit kids.

- I don’t wear my seatbelt because I want to be thrown clear in a crash / know someone who lived because they weren’t wearing a seatbelt.
Anyone who claims to have lived because they weren’t buckled should probably play the lottery a lot, because they are statistically very lucky. The biggest favor a seatbelt does you is keep you inside the vehicle in a crash. If you’re ejected, you’re 4 times more likely to be killed. Not wearing a seatbelt is also incredibly selfish if you have other passengers in the car. When your body flies around inside the vehicle during a crash, you’re likely to seriously injure or kill the other people in the car, whether they are buckled or not.


  1. sara says:

    I’m far from being an anal uptight mom (or at least I’d like to think so), but car seats (sizes, installation, etc) are one area where I’m admittedly completely uptight! Thought your post was spot on. Each one of the so-called arguments you mentioned are the ones that make me crazy. Thank you for such an excellent post!

  2. Pez says:

    Thanks for your post, especially the bit about the info from pediatricians. Ours told me at my son’s 10 yr appt that he was big enough to sit in the front seat now. Actually, he now just tall enough to be out of his booster seat AND should not sit in the front seat for another three years (WA State law).

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