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NEWS | June 30, 2008

Child safety seats: Are they used safely?

By Tech. Sgt. Erwin Arguilla 437th Airlift Wing Safety

If a child is in a child safety seat, is he really safe?

Most parents and caregivers believe they install their child safety seats correctly. However, according to National Safe Kids Coalition, 85 percent of child safety seats are incorrectly installed. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration found that 79.5 percent of children were not secured in the child safety seat properly.

Some of the common findings in these reports were:
· Improper use of or no use of locking clips.
· Improper positioning of the chest harness retainer clips.
· Improper adjustment of harness straps.
· Seat belts were not attached to or were incorrectly attached to the child safety seat.
· Infant and child safety seats were installed facing the wrong direction.
· The five point seat belt harnesses were not connected at the center buckle plate.

So what can people do to ensure the safety of their child?

First, read the vehicle owner's manual and the child safety seat installation instructions. The vehicle owner's manual provides general guidelines and information for proper location of a child safety seat. The safety seat installation instruction should be followed "to the letter." Additional guidance on purchasing and installing a child safety seat is available from the American Academy of Pediatrics. Visit their Web site at If hands-on assistance is needed, contact Trident Area "SafeKids" at 843-792-5327.

Sticker shock usually refers to the purchase of a new car; however, child safety seats can give a new parent sticker shock as well. Many new parents purchase the least expensive child safety seat they can find. They shop at yard sales, thrift shops or receive a child safety seat from family and friends. Parents should never acquire a child safety seat from these sources because they do not know its condition. The child safety seat could have been involved in a vehicle accident or exceeded the manufacturer's expiration date. Just like a motorcycle helmet, child safety seats are a one-time impact use only device.

Important information stickers may have been removed from the seat as well. The Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard to the manufacture model number is required to be on the seat intact. These safety standards inform the consumers that these child safety seat models have been tested and meet the federal safety standards. Who wants to play with the lives of their children?

"Anything manmade will fail in time" and child safety seats have a life expectancy. Most child safety seats have an average life of six years from the date of manufacture (check the manufacture's expiration date). Manufacturers construct child safety seats out of plastic. Plastic weakens after a period of time from temperature changes (expanding and contracting) and wear and tear.

Replace child safety seats that have been involved in a car crash. The safety seat may have unseen damage or seat belt stretched during the crash. There are no special inspections or an agency that inspects child safety seats involved in car crashes. Don't play with a child's life. Most insurance companies will replace child safety seats that have been involved in a car crash. Check with the insurance company to see what coverage they provide.

The U.S. Department of Transportation NHTSA advises not to place trinkets and aftermarket products in or near a child safety seat. Add on devices such as toys on harness straps, placing blankets behind the child's back and plastic mats under the child safety seats can be dangerous. These aftermarket products have never been crash tested and may be especially dangerous in a car crash. Here is a good rule of thumb. Unless it came out of the same box as the child safety seat, don't use it.

Child safety seats are occasionally recalled because of safety reasons, but how are consumers to know if the seat has been affected by the recall? When consumers purchase a child safety seat, fill out and send in the warranty card. This allows the manufacturer to make contact immediately for a recall or defect. If consumers receive recall notice, the child safety seat manufacture will provide the parts and instructions to repair the problem. To check for child safety seat recalls, contact the manufacture, NHTSA at, or Auto Safety Hot Line at 1-888-DASH 2 DOT.