Thursday, October 29, 2015

Winter is Coming

Well, it's that time of year. Leaves are falling and the weather is getting cold. Winter is coming. So what does that have to do with transporting your children safely? Thick winter coats and car seats don't mix. In a crash, a fluffy winter coat will instantly compress to the thickness of a piece of fabric and can leave way too much slack in the harness. Think about what happens when you put coats, pillows and other fluffy things into SpaceBags and vacuum out the air. They get flat! This is exactly what happens in a crash. A slack harness leaves your child at a real risk of ejection from the car seat and car. This is true of all fluff in the car seat including infant positioners, aftermarket strap covers and BundleMe's as well as coats. Nothing except fitted clothing should go between your child and the harness of the car seat.

So how do you know if a coat is safe to wear in a car seat? There is no way for anyone to say "This coat is safe" or "That coat is unsafe". There are simply too many variables. The best way to know if a coat can be worn in the car seat is to test it yourself.

  1. Put the coat on your child
  2. Put your child in the car seat and tighten the straps to pass the pinch test
  3. Remove your child from the seat WITHOUT loosening the straps
  4. Remove coat.
  5. Put your child back in the car seat and do the pinch test again- if it still passes it's safe to use.

Here are some examples of how various coats performed in my seats.

Example 1:

This is Sven- my Swedish baby from IKEA. He has the torso length of a newborn baby (7.5") and he's filled with flour so the straps can't crush him. The bunting used in this example is a 0-3 month size Carter's bunting. It's two layers of fabric and a layer of fiberfill between. It doesn't seem overly thick but as you can see, it fails miserably in the fluff test.

Example 2:

This is Sven in a "Car Seat Blanket". It has holes in the back for the straps to go through and a split at the legs for the crotch strap. It's only a piece of fuzzy fabric and a piece of cotton. This is very similar to the JJ Cole BundleMe and it is not safe for the car seat, as you can see. The sheer amount of fabric bunching around under the straps leaves far too much slack.

Example 3:

This is a "shower cap" style of car seat cover for infant seats. It goes over the top of the seat and the child is safely harnessed underneath with nothing to interfere with the harness. This is an excellent, safe option for young babies.

Example 4: 
Liam is 19 months old and in a rear facing convertible car seat. He has two coats that he wears regularly- a single layer fleece jacket for fall months and a "packable" down bunting from One Step Ahead for the dead of winter. As you can see- both coats can safely be used in the car. Even though the down bunting looks thick- it compresses when the harness is tightened so it is already fully compressed under the harness and will not compress more in a crash.

Examples 5 & 6:
Makayla is almost 7 and normally rides in a high back booster but she is modeling her coats in her old harnessed seat. The thinner coat is one layer of fuzzy fabric. The thicker coat is a heavyweight winter parka from LLBean. As you can see, neither of her coats are safe to wear under a harness. They both leave a surprising amount of slack. She is also demonstrating another safe way to stay warm in the car- remove the coat, harness the child and put the coat backwards over top!

So as you can see- you really need to test your own coats in your own car seat to see if it's safe. 

If your coats aren't safe to wear in the car- don't panic! There are a ton of options!

  • For infant seats- shower cap style covers or just plain blankets over top of the harness are safe and can be easily removed if baby gets too hot.
  • Skip the heavy coat and wear a lightweight fleece jacket, preheat the car and then it's just a quick hop from a warm house to a warm car
  • Take off coats, harness and cover with blankets in the car
  • Take off coats, harness, put coats on backwards over the harness
  • Car seat ponchos- harness under the poncho, flip the back out over the car seat (also easy to DIY)
  • The Road Coat from One Kid is a very easy, but expensive option. It zips open to a thinner lining and then zips the heavier, outer coat over top the harness. 
  • I also make a car seat blanket that goes over top of the harness and secures to the sides of the seat. Safe and warm! My Etsy Shop
Not all options work well for all families but with all of these choices there is definitely a way to keep your most precious cargo safe AND warm this winter! Buckle up!

Thursday, October 1, 2015

The Ins and Outs of Proper Harnessing

90% of car seats are installed or used incorrectly.

Today I'd like to focus on the "used" portion of that statement. Much of the misuse associated with the use of a car seat stems from errors in harnessing. 

Strap Level

In a rear facing seat, the straps should come from below the child's shoulders. This is because a rear facing child in a crash will move back in to the car seat and as the seat rotates downward, the child may ramp up the back of the seat. Having the harness straps below the shoulders limits this movement. If they were above the shoulders, the child would travel the extra distance of that gap until their shoulders hit the harness straps. The less the head and neck move and stretch in a young child, the better. Some times it can be difficult to see if the straps are above or below the shoulders. There is a simple test you can do called "The Butter Knife Test". To do the test, harness your child in to the car seat and stick a butter knife along their shoulder and through the slot that the harness straps are in. If the butter knife points upward, the slot is below. If it points downward, the slot is above!

Rear Facing = Butter knife points up!

Forward Facing = Butter knife points down!
A forward facing harness should come from the slots ABOVE the shoulders. This is because in a crash, a forward facing child will move forward into the harness. If the harness starts below the shoulders there is significantly more room to move forward (greater head excursion) as with rear facing, as little movement of the head and neck as possible is the goal!

Harness Snugness

By far, the biggest error in harnessing is not making the straps tight enough. Parents are frequently worried that they are hurting their kids by making the straps too tight. You are not! Most parents do NOT make the harness straps tight enough. The harness should be "As Snug as a Hug". If the straps are too loose there is a real risk that the child would be ejected in a crash. The easiest way to see if your harness straps are tight enough is to perform "The Pinch Test". Glide your fingers across the harness webbing at your child's collarbone. If you can pinch any webbing, the harness is too loose. Don't dig in or stick a helper finger under the harness, just apply reasonable pressure and see if you can pinch the webbing. 

Too loose!

Just right!

Harnessing: Step by Step

Rear Facing

1. Buckle both tongs into the crotch buckle and tug the straps to remove all the slack from the hip and thigh area.

2. Clip the harness retainer clip (also called the chest clip) and pull upward on both straps

3. Reach behind the seat and grab both of the harness straps and pull. This is very helpful for seats that are hard to adjust using the front adjuster strap. If you pull the slack to the back of the seat it pulls out very easily with the front adjuster strap.

4. Pull the front adjuster strap by the child's feet and remove all the slack. 

5. Move the harness retain clip to the required position. The top of the clip should be even with the top of the child's armpits.

6. Do the pinch test and adjust further if needed.

Forward Facing

1. Clip both buckle tongs in to the crotch buckle and clip the chest clip. Pull all the slack out of the hip area.

2. Pull the front harness adjuster to tighten the straps. 

3. Move the chest clip so that the top is even with the armpits. 

4. Do the pinch test!

Proper harnessing is key to keeping your child safe in a crash. Make sure the straps are at the correct level for their direction, tighten up those straps and keep the top of the chest clip even with the armpits! 

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Combination or 3 in 1 Seats

Combination seats are sometimes called 3 in 1 seats. Unfortunately this can be very misleading to a lot of parents because they think it will be the only seat they'll need. Combination seats DO NOT rear face. The three modes of use in a combination seat are forward facing 5 point harness, high back booster and no back booster. Some people call these "harnessed boosters" as well. Since this seat can't rear face it is not appropriate for babies and young toddlers. A combination seat should be used from a minimum of age two but preferably closer to four. Children are much safer rear facing and should do so as long as possible.

A combination seat is #therightseat for your child if they are between 2 and 12 years old.

Combination seats fill a gap between outgrowing a convertible and being too young to booster. Not all children will need a combination seat. Some kids will fit in their convertible car seat until they are old enough and mature enough (minimum of age 5) to ride in a booster seat. Some kids find the larger dimensions of a combination seat more comfortable than a convertible seat. Like convertible seats there are several choices on the market. If you are looking for a narrow harnessed seat to fit three across, the Harmony Defender is your best bet. It's also a great pick for a budget seat as it is only around $100. If you need a seat with a high weight or height limit on the harness the Britax Frontier will harness until 90 lbs. In between these extremes, the Evenflo Transitions, the Graco Nautilus and the Britax Pioneer are all great choices that will harness your child until they are ready to move to the booster mode of the seat.

The harnessed mode of the combination seat is for children weighing about 25 lbs- 65 lbs and age 2-6 (depending on the seats specifications). There is only one belt path on a combination seat and you should always use the tether whether you install with lower anchors or the seat belt. The harness straps should always be above your child's shoulders.

One important thing to remember with older children in harnessed seats is that the lower anchors have weight limits. It varies by seat and car. A car seat made after 2014 will have the weight limit on the side label. If you are using an older seat, contact a CPST to help you determine what the weight limit on LATCH is for your seat and vehicle. After the lower anchor weight limit is reached, you reinstall the seat with the seat belt and the top tether. 

After your child has outgrown the harnessed mode for the seat you remove the harness, following the manufacturer's instructions in the manual and use the seat belt to secure your child. Make sure that you thread the shoulder belt through the belt guide on the seat and put both the shoulder and lap belt under the armrest. 

Finally, when your child outgrows the high back portion of the combination seat, remove the back and use just the no back portion of the booster. This should be used until your child passes the 5 Step Test and can use just the seat belt- usually between 10-12 years old.

To ride safely without a booster a child needs to pass the "5 Step Test":

  • Lap belt fits low on the hips, not the abdomen
  • Shoulder belt lays flat on the shoulder
  • Butt all the way back and back flat against the seat back
  • Knees bent at or beyond the edge of the seat, feet flat on the floor
  • Child is mature enough to stay in position the entire trip, even when sleeping

I hope this helps you determine if a combination seat is #therightseat for your child. If you have any questions, as always, please comment or send me an email!

Monday, September 14, 2015

Convertibles (Car SEATS not cars!)

Convertible car seats are the workhorses of the car seat world. These seat are designed to be used rear facing and then, when outgrown in rear facing mode, turned around and used forward facing. Many (but not all) convertible seats are designed to be used from birth instead of an infant seat with a handle. Convertible seats typically can be used rear facing until 40 lbs or 40 inches tall but there are variants both ways. This is the size of an average 4 year old. When we say rear face to the limits of the seat we mean the limits of a convertible- not an infant seat- which are outgrown usually before 1 year. After the rear facing mode is outgrown, convertible seats are turned around and used forward facing until about 65 lbs.

A convertible can be #therightseat for your child from birth until booster age. 

There are a lot of convertible seats on the market. How do you know which one is the right one? First- there is no BEST seat. 

The BEST seat is one that:
  1. Fits the child
  2. Fits your vehicle
  3. Fits your budget
  4. You can install and use correctly 100% of the time
If you have a tall child, look for a seat with a high rear facing height limit. If you have a heavy child, look for the 50 lb rear facing weight limit. If you have a tiny car, look for a seat that is compact front to back. If you need to fit three seats across your back seat, look for the narrowest seat. Overwhelmed by the choices? Talk to a CPST! We have a lot of knowledge about choosing the right seat for your situation and we're always happy to help. One thing you should not rely on are online reviews by other customers (like on Amazon). I know, I use them for everything too. This is the one instance where I can definitively say they are worthless. Remember these statistics:

90% of seats are installed or used incorrectly
96% of parents believe their seat is installed and used correctly

So, when it comes to reviews, 90% of the people writing the review have no idea that they're doing it wrong. If you like to read online reviews of seats I recommend Car Seats For the Littles. They do amazing, in depth reviews and they are written by CPSTs so they are also accurate. They don't shy away from pointing out flaws either. They also have a list of recommended seats. That's not to say that if it's not on the recommended list, it's not a good or safe seat, it just may have some quirks that make it not as easy to use for a wide variety of situations. It's always a good place to start. 

After you've selected and purchased the right convertible seat for your child, vehicle and budget it's time to install. The first thing you should do is sit down and read the manual. I mean REALLY read it. Cover to cover, all the words. It's critical to understanding how to install and use your seat correctly. 

Installation of convertible seats is as varied as the number of seats on the market. Some basic install tips. 
  • Use the right belt path- convertible seats have two belt paths- one for rear facing and one for forward facing. The belt paths are clearly labeled on the seat. Using the wrong one can be deadly in a crash. This video shows a seat properly installed on the right and installed with the belt through the incorrect belt path on the left. 
  • Set the harness straps at the correct height
    • Rear facing, the straps should be at or below the child's shoulders. In a crash, the child will be pushed back into the seat and ramp up the back of the seat. Having the harness below the shoulders prevents upward motion of the child.
    • Forward facing, the straps should be at or above the child's shoulders. In a crash, the child will be thrown forward into the harness. Having the harness above the shoulders limits the forward motion of the child.
  • Use the top tether! The top tether should be used regardless of whether you use the seat belt or the lower anchors for installation. It limits head excursion by 6-8"- which is huge. In studies, only 29% of parents used the top tether on a forward facing installation and of those who used it only 56% used it correctly. 
  • Make sure everything is snug. Your seat should not move more than 1" side to side or front to back AT THE BELT PATH when given a firm shake. Do not test for movement at the top of the seat in a rear facing installation. It will always move there- it's designed to. Only check at the belt path. 
  • Do the pinch test! You should not be able to pinch any excess harness webbing when your child is harnessed snugly enough. Make sure the top of the chest clip is level with their armpits. Having the harness too loose can cause your child to be ejected and killed in a crash. 
Having #therightseat is critical to the safety of your child in the car. Hopefully you now have a better understanding of convertible car seats. As always, if you have any questions, please comment or send me an email. 

Sunday, September 13, 2015

All About Boosters!

Today I'm writing about some questions that all parents will eventually ask- "How do I know when my child is ready to move to a booster?" and "How do I know when my child no longer needs a booster?"

Your child should be in a harnessed seat until a minimum of age 5. The most important factor in deciding whether to use a harnessed seat or a booster is the maturity of the child. The seat belt can only do it's job if it is in position at the time of the crash. If your child is leaning over and poking their sibling or reaching down to get something of the floor when the crash happens, serious injuries will happen. They need to be able to sit still in the booster and not wiggle around. For most kids this will not happen until at least age five, more likely age 6 or 7.

Seat belts are designed to fit fully grown adults, not children. The purpose of a booster seat is to make the adult seat belt fit the child's body and position the belt across the strongest bones. Here is my 6.75 year old in her Graco Affix in my 2006 VW Beetle. She is 47" tall and 46 lbs.

This booster seat gives her optimal belt fit. You can see that the belt is low and nearly flat on her thighs and the shoulder belt goes across the center of her shoulder. This booster seat is called a High Back Booster because it has a back with a shoulder belt guide. The Graco Affix can also be used in No Back Booster mode by removing the back.

She has the same great lap belt fit in this mode but the shoulder belt lies too far on the edge of her shoulder. With this belt fit, she is at a greater risk of "roll out" in a crash, where the top half of her body could rotate and roll over the belt, allowing her to bend too far forward. Another common problem with no back boosters is when children fall asleep in them and are unable to maintain an upright position. The high back can help keep kids upright and in position. Ideally, a high back should be used until it is outgrown. 

There is a third option for booster seats. Combination seats start out with a harness and then, when they have been outgrown in harness mode, you take the harness out and use them as a booster. This is the Britax Frontier 85 in booster mode in our 2009 VW Jetta.

Combination seats can save you money in the long run because you can avoid buying a harnessed seat and then a dedicated booster later. They work just the same as a high back booster (some also become no back boosters as well). 

The next question- "How do I know when my child no longer needs a booster seat?" is harder for parents to determine. Let's look at what my daughter looks like without a booster seat. 

This is back in my Beetle with no booster seat. You can see how high the belt is on her abdomen. Children do not have the same bone density that adults do and their hips have not fully formed until puberty. When a belt is high on the abdomen like this, the belt will rip through the abdomen, crushing all of the organs against the spinal column. This can be fatal. You can also see that the belt is high up against her neck. This positioning makes it less likely that she will keep it in front of her body because it is irritating. Children tend to move irritating belts under their arm or behind their backs which can lead to a fatal injury known as seat belt syndrome when a body bisects in half in a crash because the upper body is not restrained. This is why lap only belts are not safe for anyone to ride in. 

To ride safely without a booster a child needs to pass the "5 Step Test":
  1. Lap belt fits low on the hips, not the abdomen
  2. Shoulder belt lays flat on the shoulder
  3. Butt all the way back and back flat against the seat back
  4. Knees bent at or beyond the edge of the seat, feet flat on the floor
  5. Child is mature enough to stay in position the entire trip, even when sleeping
In Ohio, the legal requirements to ride without a booster are age 8 or 4'9" tall. The law is outdated and does not demonstrate best practice. Only 50% of children who are 4'9" will pass the 5 Step Test. Most kids will need boosters until somewhere between 10-12.

Take a minute today and check your child's belt fit. If you have any questions please leave a comment or send me a message!

Friday, September 11, 2015

Welcome! I'm glad you're here!

If you're looking for straightforward, practical advice on how to keep your kids safest in the car- you've come to the right place. I'm Kate. I'm a certified child passenger safety technician, mom of two and a full time chemist. I'm passionate about keeping kids safe in cars.

When my oldest was born almost 7 years ago, I knew nothing about car seats other than that I needed one. I picked the one that fit my color scheme and fit in to the stroller I bought. When she was 15 months, she outgrew her infant seat and so I bought a convertible. No one told me I should install it rear facing until she was two years old at a minimum so I didn't. Every day I am thankful that we didn't get in a wreck when she was so unsafe. When she was three, we were rear ended waiting to turn into our own driveway. When I started looking for a replacement seat I realized how much I had done wrong and vowed to help educate other parents on how to keep their kids safest. 

90% of car seats are installed or used incorrectly.

96% of parents believe their car seat is installed and used correctly.

This is a massive disconnect that leaves a huge number of children less safe than they should be in the car. 

This is where the CPST comes in. It's my job to educate parents about best practice and to teach them how to install and use their seats correctly. I am certified through SafeKids Worldwide- the certifying body for all CPSTs. To obtain certification I had to attend a 4 day course that included instruction, written tests and practical exams (installs in cars) with a live seat check event for real parents on the last day. 

So you're here and that's great! When you know better, you do better. Stick around and learn all about car seats. It's not just another piece of baby gear- it's a life saving device for your child and you need to learn to use it.