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!