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How can I make sure my baby is safe in the car?

By Beth Gibson on October 1, 2020

Bringing home your first baby from the hospital can be scary. What parent hasn’t felt unprepared to care for a precious new life?

Along the way, choosing and installing your baby’s first car seat can also feel daunting. All the options available are overwhelming, and figuring out how to install and use one properly can seem like a job for a rocket scientist.

As parents ourselves, we at GibsonSingleton remember those “new baby” days well. So, we want to help parents and caregivers out by sharing some useful tips about keeping your infant safe in the car.

How do proper restraints prevent injuries?

Most people understand the value of seatbelts. These simple devices effectively prevent serious injuries from happening during collisions every day. But like any safety device, seatbelts are designed to work under certain circumstances, such as when the car’s occupant meets minimum height and weight requirements. Seatbelts work by using our own body weight to hold us against the seat.  But if a passenger is too light, the seatbelt will not effectively restrain her, and may even cause injuries.

These same minimum weight requirements come into play when securing an infant into a car seat. Because their bodies are too small to be protected by seatbelts, car seats make up for the weight differences and give additional protection.

What does Virginia require?

Children under the age of 2 must ride in rear-facing car seats in the backseat of a vehicle, according to Virginia Code (§46.2-1095). However, when a toddler reaches the minimum weight limit for a forward-facing seat, then parents should use that instead and until they reach the age of 8.

These laws are supported by the American Academy of Pediatrics, which also recommends using booster seats until children are large enough to fit into a seatbelt alone, and having all children ride in the backseat until they are 13.

What’s the big deal about using car seats properly?

These laws and recommendations help combat the dangers children face in car accidents. Vehicle accidents are the No. 1 killer of young people under 18. And properly installing the car seat is critical to helping a child survive an accident. In short, properly securing your child can reduce the risk of them suffering a serious injury by at least 80%, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

How can I find the right car seat for my child?

Following the recommended size, weight, and age requirements for a car seat is key to protecting your infant or toddler. This means purchasing and installing a rear-facing car seat initially.

But which one? Well, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has you covered. This government agency has tested multiple car seats and offers a comprehensive rating system to help parents easily find the right car seat for their child.

All you have to do is enter your child’s age, height, and weight into their Car Seat Finder, and the website will provide a list of easy-to-install car seats right for your child.

How do I properly install and use my infant’s car seat?

Once you have selected a car seat for your infant, check its instruction manual and your vehicle’s manual to learn how to secure the car seat properly. Fortunately, the NHTSA has also prepared a guide on how to install car seats, which we have summarized  below:

How do I  secure my infant car seat with a seatbelt?

  1. Review the instructions in your car seat’s manual and your vehicle’s manual to find out how your vehicle’s seat belt system works.
  2. Double-check the car seat angle. Babies should sit semi-reclined so that they can breathe properly. You should adjust the angle as your child grows.
  3. Put the car seat base in the backseat of your car with the front of it facing the rear of your car.
  4. Loop your car’s seatbelt through the rear-facing belt path and ensure there are no kinks in the belt.
  5. Buckle the seat belt in place and pull on it to ensure it is locked in position.
  6. Push your weight down on the car seat’s base until it fits firmly against the back seat. You should not be able to move the seat more than 1 inch in either direction.
  7. Once the base is secure, you can attach the infant car seat.

How do I secure my infant car seat with a seat anchor?

The process is very similar to the one above, and the NHTSA has a more in-depth process to install a car seat with lower-anchors.

How do I make sure my baby is resting comfortably in their car seat?

  1. Lay your child in the seat with his or her back flat against the seat.
  2. Loop the harness straps over your child’s shoulders so that they lay flat and do not have any kinks or twists. The straps should fit through the loops located beside your child’s shoulders.
  3. Connect the harness and chest clip so that it is secure and snug against your child’s chest. You should not be able to pinch any extra material on the straps near your child’s shoulder.
  4. The chest clip should be level with your child’s armpit so that the harness is taut.

How can I avoid common mistakes when putting my baby in a car seat?

Avoiding these common mistakes in using your infant car seat can maximize your baby’s safety and prevent injuries if he’s ever in a wreck:

  • Avoid putting your baby in a coat, jacket, or blanket before putting them in the seat. Extra padding could keep the harness from fitting snugly against them. Instead, place your child in the seat first, and then place the blanket or jacket over them. This can also keep your baby from overheating.
  • For smaller babies, you can place rolled-up blankets along their shoulders and head to fill any empty spaces and keep them more secure.
  • With smaller babies, you may notice a gap between the car seat buckle and your baby’s groin. To hold your smaller baby in place, place a rolled-up washcloth or spare diaper under the buckle, so it fits more snuggly against them.
  • Always check with your car seat’s instruction guide before adding extra padding under your child. It may not be recommended.

What if I have more questions or want to talk to an expert for free?

If you have more questions about your infant’s car seat and how to use it properly, you can always have a safety technician look it over and make sure you’re using it properly – for free.

In Gloucester, Investigator Jason Schnurr will check car seats and answer related questions at the Gloucester Sheriff’s Office, 7502 Justice Drive. Investigator Schnurr holds a National Child Passenger Safety Certification as a certified technician. To request an appointment, Investigator Schnurr may be reached at (804) 824-2757.

You can find a safety technician near you by visiting nhtsa.gov and entering your zip code, or by searching https://portalskcms.cyzap.net/dzapps/dbzap.bin/apps/assess/webmembers/secure/manage?webid=SKCMS&pToolCode=CERT-SEARCH&pAdd=Yes.

How else can I learn more about car safety for kids?

At GibsonSingleton, we are dedicated to helping parents and other caregivers keep children safe. That’s why we are holding a car seat safety campaign through the end of this year. We will be sharing more information throughout the fall about how to keep your preschooler and elementary-aged child safe.

How can I win a free car seat for my baby or child?

And  part of our “Car Seats for Kids” campaign, we are offering everyone a chance to win a new car seat in October, November, and December. The car seat can be for a baby, toddler, preschooler, or elementary-aged child. If you do not have children, please feel free to nominate a friend or family member who does!

To enter our giveaway, just visit our Facebook page, www.facebook.com/GibsonSingleton and nominate yourself or someone else to win. We will select one winner at the end of each month, so you have plenty of time.

Got more questions?

Again, we will be posting more information on our website and our Facebook page from now through December, so watch for that. And if you have any questions, feel free to contact me, Beth Gibson, at [email protected] or call our office at (804) 413-6777.

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Prevention, empathy, and diligence are hallmarks of everything we do at GibsonSingleton Virginia Injury Attorneys. Our community can see these ideals lived out in our work to prevent personal injuries from happening.

  • Safety Education
    GibsonSingleton launches a “Texts=Wrecks” campaign to reduce the number of people injured or killed by distracted drivers.
  • Annual Coat Drive
    During the fall, our team works to distribute coats to people in need in our community.
  • Hands-on Service
    John and Ken join the Gloucester Point Rotary Club in cleaning up the community.
  • Supporting Local Schools
    The Gibson family participates in Gloucester’s Botetourt Elementary Shuffle fundraiser.