Car Seat Conundrums – You Asked, We Answered

We asked for your car seat questions on Facebook and you delivered! Here are the answers to some of your questions.

Does my really tall 7 year old need to sit in a booster?

Laws vary from state to state, but here in Ohio a child must sit in a booster until they are 8 or 4’9.” So, depending on the height of your 7 year old, he or she might fit this requirement.  It is a good idea to go through the following Safety Belt Fit Test to see if he or she is ready for a regular lap shoulder belt:

  • The child’s knees should bend at the edge of the seat when his or her back and bottom are against the vehicle seat back; and
  • The vehicle lap belt should fit across the upper thighs (not the stomach); and
  • The shoulder belt should fit across the shoulder and chest (not the neck).

Are the toys that are attached to the handle to entertain the baby safe for car rides ?

It is not recommended that after-market products be attached to the car seat.  Toys attached to a handle can become projectiles in the event of a crash and can cause serious harm.  Also, some infant carriers are supposed to have the handle down, so check your manual for the safest position of the handle while driving.

Other items such as shoulder pads and harness covers decrease the effectiveness of the restraint by adding bulk between your child and the strap.  If it is cold, lay a blanket over the baby after he is buckled instead of putting thick coats or blankets under the straps, putting the baby at risk in a crash.

I know we’re not supposed to forward face until 2 years. Is there also a weight minimum?

You are right, the minimum age that you should turn your child around is 2, but the longer they can stay rear facing, the safer they are.  Check the side of the car seat to see the rear facing weight limit, and keep your child rear facing until she reaches that weight.

11 week old baby seems to have a bit of motion sickness and screams when he’s rear-facing in the car. We have tried a mirror, someone sitting back there with him, distracting him with toys, and covering the window. Any suggestions?

I feel your pain.  My oldest screamed in the car until he was 3 months old.  I know it can be difficult, and distracting, but he will get used to it!

What do you do if (you’re) driving a five seat car with four kids and a driver. Kids 5..4..3..and 5 months. Do you put the oldest in the front passenger seat if you have absolutely no choice? Or is it still illegal?

There is no law about what age the child must be to sit in the front seat, but the recommendation is that they do not sit in the front until they are 13.  I remember that I used to love sitting in the front seat with my parents, but that was in the days before air bags.  Now most cars are equipped with front seat air bags that deploy with such force, they can cause serious brain and spinal cord injures, facial injury, and even death to young children. Studies show that children riding in the back are 63% less likely to be injured in a crash.

Any recommendations for when your child knows how to unstrap themselves?

Make sure that the straps are snug enough.  Parents can also try behavioral modifications such as a reward system if this is more of a behavioral issue. If the child stays buckled the entire ride, they get a reward, such as a sticker or a small treat.  Set them up for success by starting with short rides. If you have further concerns, please contact Nationwide Children’s Hospital Child Passenger Safety Program at 614.722.6524.

Which is safer an infant car seat or convertible car seat backwards facing?

As long as the child fits within the seat’s height and weight limits, the seat is properly installed, the straps are adjusted correctly, and you use it EVERY time the child is in the car, it does not matter.

I feel like I can’t make the straps of the convertible car seat as tight as the infant car seat straps. Are they supposed to be as tight? and My mother always tells me I tighten the straps too much. So, how tight should they be?

Yes, they are supposed to be tight.  Make sure the harness is through the correct slot, based on your child’s height, then once the child is buckled, with the chest harness fastened, do the Pinch test. If you are still having trouble, click here to find a child passenger inspection site to help you with the straps.

Pinch Test. Make sure the harness is tightly buckled and coming from the correct slots (check your manual). Now, with the chest clip placed at armpit level, pinch the strap at your child’s shoulder. If you are unable to pinch any excess webbing, you’re good to go.

Is extended forward-facing safer than a booster? When (age/weight/height) is it safest to transition from a forward-facing seat to a booster (high-back or other)?

Great question!  Every time you move your child to the next stage of car seat/booster seat, you are losing protection.  So, the 5-point harness of a forward facing car seat is safer than the lap shoulder belt of a booster seat.  Every car seat has different height/weight limits, so look on the side of your car seat for those limits, and I would recommend keeping your child in the forward facing car seat until they reach the maximum height/weight limits, and then transitioning to a high back booster.

Is there a place in Columbus you can rent the car seats to take preemie babies home when they won’t pass the normal car seat test in the regular ones? Or do most parents have to buy new ones?

That is going to depend on the car seat program at the delivery hospital.  If parents think that they are going to have a premature baby, make sure that you purchase a seat with a 4 pound minimum.

You can find more information on car seat safety, here or check out our Car Seat Chooser.

Sarah A. Denny, MD
Sarah Denny, MD, FAAP, works as an attending physician in the Section of Emergency Medicine at Nationwide Children’s Hospital and as an Associate Clinical Professor of Pediatrics at The Ohio State University School of Medicine. She is Co-Chair of the Injury, Violence and Poison Prevention for the Ohio Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics and serves on the Executive Committee for the Council on Injury, Violence and Poison Prevention for the American Academy of Pediatrics. Her specific areas of interest include bike helmet awareness, safe sleep and legislative advocacy. Sarah is the mom of three energetic little boys (ages 4, 6 and 8). In her free time, Dr. Denny runs half marathons, loves to travel and is learning to garden.

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