Do’s and Don’ts About Car Passenger Safety

Parents may have the best intentions to keep their children safe, but sometimes life gets in the way, people get distracted, and children get injured or worse. Bethany McCunn of the Virginia Department of Health works in the Injury and Violence Prevention unit and offers valuable advice about keeping children safe.

Q: What’s the biggest mistake parents make when installing a safety seat in their car?

McCunn: One of the most common things is that the safety seat fails the “One Inch Test” … a properly installed car safety seat does not move more than one inch from side to side or front to back along the belt path. The second most common mistake is not keeping the baby or child snug in the seat. You have to have a snug installation – and this may take some work with the belt path, the buckle and the latch straps – to really keep the child safe in the seat.

Q: Should children be encased in layers of clothing before being placed in the car seat?

McCunn: If you put bulky and puffy clothing, such as a snowsuit or many layers of clothing, between your child and the safety seat harness, it is not fitting snuggly and you are decreasing your child’s safety in the seat. You can dress the baby in layers but remove the bulky jacket, for example, get them harnessed in, and then put the jacket over them backwards so they are warm, or tuck in a blanket over them once they are harnessed in. We really don’t want anything bulky between child and harness. Snugness is essential.

Q: My child hates being harnessed in; can’t I just hold him in my arms?

McCunn: Whenever you are combining speed of a car and the weight of a child in your arms, you are creating a situation of how much force will it take to hold onto that child if something happens. So even looking at going 10 miles an hour and holding a 10-pound baby, you will need 100 pounds of force to keep that child from flying out of your arms in the case of an accident. And that is absolutely not a good thing to count on being able to do. When you use a car safety seat, you are protecting the child as well as yourself. We don’t need any projectiles in our vehicles, be they persons or cargo.

Q: My baby is usually napping when we get home from being out somewhere in the car. Is it okay to keep them in the car seat inside to keep napping, or even to feed them?

McCunn: Child safety seats are designed to keep your child safe during transportation in the vehicle. It’s really not a great practice to keep them in the seat inside. They can slump over and their airways can get blocked, because the car seat is designed at a specific angle for car transport. We don’t encourage use of the safety seat for anything other than transportation of the child in the vehicle.

Q: What about carrying the baby inside in the car seat and setting the whole thing up on the table so parents can put away the groceries or whatever and keep an eye on the baby?

McCunn: It’s really not a good idea. The bases of most car seats are not stable; they have a curve to them and baby can rock themselves right off the table and take a bad fall, while harnessed in the seat. Also, if you bring the child in and set it down on the floor, somebody might not see it and trip over it or step on the child. Parents will sometimes unfasten the harness and leave the child in there, and the child may get wrapped up in the harness. So it’s really best not to leave them in the safety seat, especially with anything loose.