On May 12, 2011 it was reported that a 3 year old girl had died in Coon Rapids, Minnesota. She had not been properly secured in her seat. Her mother had been driving. People that knew her mother, and had ridden with her before, said they were sure she always strapped her child into her restraints. And that may have been the case.
Studies show 85% of all car seats are installed improperly and/or used improperly. There are careful guidelines given in many places, such as the manual that comes with your carseat, on the proper way to install and use a carseat, because one mistake can be fatal. You can strap your child in all you want, but if the strap is too loose or the harness placed wrong, it can still malfunction. Police stations usually always have at least one car seat specialist to help you install yours correctly or tell you if you need to change anything. Even if you think you have it all in correctly, it is highly recommended you find a specialist to inspect it for you.
Along with improperly secured car seats, parents are often confused by the guidelines on when to switch your child to a front facing car seat. Many think that it is based on weight, and that at a certain weight (20 lbs) they are too large to be in a rear facing car seat. This is absolutely untrue, and the basis of determination is not weight, but neck muscle development. Until they are one year old, their neck muscles are much too weak to survive the whiplash from even a minor fender bender. The best thing would be to get a rear facing car seat with a heavy weight limit and keep your child rear facing as long as possible, but at least until they are one year of age.
Another easy mistake is to leave your child for a minute in a vehicle while running to grab something from the house or into a convenience store. (Of course we have heard of children left for hours in a vehicle on purpose while mommy or daddy did whatever they were doing outside the car. This article is about mistakes, not purposeful negligence.) But when you have all the kids strapped in and the car running, and you realize you left the diaper bag in the house, you may think it no thing to quickly run in and grab it. There are two dangers here:
Toddlers may unstrap themselves and suprisingly quickly move to the front of the vehicle and start pushing buttons and pulling levers. They can easily lock you out and then pull the car out of park at their leisure while you frantically try to unlock the door or find the spare set of keys.
Even if you don’t have a toddler, there is a big danger. How many times have you locked your keys in the car? Once? Five times? Not real often. But obviously you never meant to do it or expected to do it ANY of those times. What if one of those times happens when baby is locked into the car too? It takes at least half an hour for a locksmith to come, in the best of cases. How much can temperatures rise inside a car in half an hour? Let’s take a look:
When the sun is shining, a car can heat up from 79 degrees Farenheit (26 degrees C) to 122 degrees Farenheit (50 degrees C) in half an hour. After one full hour it will be at least 150 degress Farenheit, easily enough to kill anyone immersed in that heat. But your windows are cracked open so its ok, you say? Even with the windows all the way down, the temperature at one hour will be 110 degrees Farenheit (43 degrees C), more than enough to bring on heatstroke especially in a small child. Never leave your child in a car by themselves for any reason or any length of time.
Even if they are sleeping when you arrive at your destination and you don’t want to disturb them, you should always take them out of the vehicle. Possibly waking them up is much preferable to possibly roasting them to death, epecially if you should happen to forget they are out there for a while. Do you claim to have an infallible memory? Your child is nothing to test it with! Even on a shady day, a car can heat up quickly to temperatures that will boil the water inside your skin. This has happened before, by a parent that merely forgot their child was in the car. The agony a child would and has gone through while dying because they were forgotten in a car is horrible to contemplate. Do not make their mistake.