Do You Use Your Carseat Correctly?

By Erin Powell Davey

Over the past few weeks, I've had friends send in pictures that they've found (of their friends) with children not safely or properly restrained in their carseats. I have also noticed several casually posted pictures, and it makes me sad to see this babies so unsafe.

The fact that it is safer to keep toddlers rear-facing for as long as possible is spreading, and that's great. But many parents and caregivers are not using their carseats properly. Specifically, they are not strapping their babies in correctly. And as a result, babies fly from seats on a regular basis in crashes and even in fender benders. They are often injured, and some die.

So I thought I'd take some pictures of proper and improper carseat usage to share today. Please strive to make your child's restraint system look like the first two pictures.

This is my daughter in her carseat - one which she officially outgrew by weight as of 2 days ago! Notice the straps are flat and not twisted. They span the entire 'width' of the buckle where they change direction and are not pinched or twisted. The shoulder straps are below the level of her shoulders (for rear-facing). The chest clip is actually a 'chest clip' at armpit level and not a 'belly clip'. The straps are snug against her body.

Here I am demonstrating that I cannot pinch the strap because it is too snug to do so.

Obviously unsafe! (Okay, I just put it in 'cause it was cute!)

Notice the left strap is twisted; the chest clip is a 'belly clip' and the straps are not tightened.

Here I am demonstrating how much I can pinch the strap because it is not tight enough.

My daughter says, "You don't have me in here right!"

Notice, I slid the straps down over her shoulders to show that it could be done--this is at the same level of tightness as in the previous 'bad' pictures, but I accidentally took the twist out.

And finally, my daughter shows that she can get her whole upper body out of the straps -- this is at the same level of 'looseness' as the other 'bad' pictures. They don't look terribly loose and you might think you are keeping your baby more comfortable leaving them a little loose - but you are doing them no favors.

With the straps this loose, you can see her upper body is out and with the forces of a crash her whole body would easily be ejected from the seat.

Is this really any better than no seat at all?

Related articles:

Common Car Seat Errors

Car Seat Safety: Rear Facing as Long as Possible

Car Seats are for Cars

AAP: Car Seats Lower Oxygen Levels

American Academy of Pediatrics on "Bucket Babies" and SIDS


  1. I just posted this list about car seat misuse on Facebook the other day: It can be re-posted as long as my name stays on it. Thanks for posting pictures - a lot of people will benefit from actually seeing the misuse instead of just reading about it!

    Lisa, CPST

  2. Thanks for the post!

    I am looking for the "rule" on when my almost 13 year old son can safely ride in the front seat... I've seen and heard conflicting things... know any good link or info on this??? It will resolve a family argument!!! LOL

  3. I did not know that the car seat's safety clips should be from below the shoulders and not above...thank you for the information! I purchased my seat used so it came without instructions and although I thought I had it right...I clearly did not.

    Thank you!
    Mommy Bridget

  4. Bridget--for rear facing, where the straps enter into the seat itself should be at shoulder height or below. For forward facing, they should be above shoulder level.

  5. Thank you for your additional article, Lisa. It has been posted here: Please let us know if you'd like your name linked to any particular website. :)

  6. First off, if you can avoid buying a seat used, do so. You have no idea what the history of a used seat is. Many people don't know that carseats have expiration dates. Seats are rated safe only for a period of time. If you do purchase a seat that does not have a user's manual with it, you can typically download one from the manufacturer's website. Reading the user's manual is one of the MOST IMPORTANT things you can do to keep your child safe. Each seat installs slightly differently. Each seat has different weight ranges. Converible seats (can face either forward or backwards) have weight ranges for rear-facing and forward-facing positions.

    For both general and specific information about car seats, I highly recommend checking out It is a forum filled with certified car seat technicians. Unfortunately, most of us have receive misinformation from friends, family members, and even fire and police personnel. Get your seat checked by a CERTIFIED CAR SEAT TECH. They have been extensively trained in many different kinds of seats, as well as particular models. I have heard really bad advice that was given out during free car seat checks by fire, police and hospital personnel. You can find a certified car seat tech to check your seat for free at

    Sarah L

  7. I get so upset when I see kids on TV shows and they're not in carseats correctly. Last year there was Nate Burkus on Oprah, being a "SAHM" for a day and the kid's whole arm was out. I've seen 3 year olds on Dr. Phil using the car's seat belts. On older episodes of the Duggar Family's shows they use out-dated infant seats and other issues. On "Quints take Manhatten" (or some similiar title, on TLC), they show quints that are not yet 2, forward facing, and almost ALL of them were not restrained correctly.

    As for riding in the front seat, generally, the person (kid or not!) should be over 5'4" and over 100lb. If the shoulder belt can be adjusted, that's great, and the seat should always be as far back as possible. Seatbelts are tested on an average person of 130-170lb and 5'7" (I seem to recall). So yes, it can mean that seatbelts and airbags are dangerous for short women! The visor in our trucks say "kids 12 and under...." but if your 12 year old is 5'8" and 130lb...they're probably safe :)

  8. Ummm....what is the LENGTH limit on this seat? The weight is only HALF the issue. She should not be in that seat if she outgrew it in length and it looks like perhaps she did. My daughters outgrew their infant seats, by length, at 4 months old. Both of them! My son outgrew his, by length, even earlier as he was 22" long when he was born. LENGTH is an important issue in infant seat fit and many seats have increased their length limit but this seat looks older and I would check the length...she may have actually outgrown it long ago :/

  9. Rear-facing car seats are outgrown by height when the top of the child's head is within one inch of the top of the shell.

  10. In the first picture, where she is properly strapped, you can see that she's of proper height for it. However, it is stated that she has outgrown it at this point, by weight.

  11. the length limit only comes into play when the child's head is not at least one inch below the top of the seat. the child is we within the height limit of the seat in the photo, but as mom said just outgrew it by weight. Length is a VERY important factor in carseat safety, however only when it comes to the top of their head being over the limit. I have a child who is very tall for his age but thanks to him having a short torso has the advantage of being in a harness longer.

  12. This is my daughter, and an article I wrote for facebook last year after seeing so many friends posting pictures of their kids in their carseats in totally unsafe manners.

    The fact is, the overall height limit is a guideline, but the actual height limit is this: they need 1 inch of hard shell above their head. that is all. It doesn't matter how long their legs are, it doesn't matter if their legs extend past the end of the seat, it doesn't matter if they are touching the back of the vehicle seat, etc. As long as there is an inch of hard shell above their head, it is fine.

    Now that said, my daughter had not been in this seat since she was 4 months old. A 'bucket' seat is convenient if you are going to carry your baby around in it outside of the car. And since we rarely did that, once she was big enough to fit into the (easier to use) Britax Marathon, we moved her. It was a lot easier to take good pictures and manipulate the straps inside of my house instead of out in the car, where the Marathon is installed, so that's why I used this seat for the demonstration (though that shouldn't REALLY matter, as she DOES 'fit' it).

    It was also suggested that this seat is 'older' and I wanted to insure that it is NOT. The seat was bought while I was pregnant with my daughter and she is not even 3 may be 'ugly' but it is not old. ;)

  13. "Reflections", I believe you may be focusing on her legs/feet, when you should be more concerned with her head. For a RF carseat to be outgrown there is less than 1" of hard plastic shell above the child's head. In the first photo, you can clearly see there is at least 1" of shell above her head.

  14. I have been obsessive about car seat safety for 13 years now, and your article is spot on. But that's not why I am posting. Really, I just wanted to post how stinking cute that little pixie in the pictures is!!!

  15. Ok question..... is the 1 inch rule true true of all car seats. I have a Graco that does not say that in the owner manual (like some do) It say a max height of 29 inches. So can I use it past that length??? She was just 29 inches last week but I would like to keep her in it longer.

  16. Monika, that is correct. There has to be 1 inch of hard shell (no padding or pillows) above the head to use it rearfacing.


    Yes, the legs are a common obstacle in the promotion of safer carseat usage. Many parents worry that the child's legs will be injured or cause injury upon impact.

    Unfortunately for those who choose to prematurely forward face, the actual reported cases show otherwise. In the US, the most commonly reprted injury for forward facing children is a leg injury. When they are in a collision, they are thrust forward into the seat in front of them. The pelvis is also in an anatomically incorrect position when forwad facing, especially if the child is young (imagine the poor positioning of a Baby Bjorn carrier) so pelvic injuries are common as well.

    If you view this crash test video, you will get a visual idea of the risk of forward facing. Note that the legs make an impact first, which is where the injury occurs. The spinal injuries occur when the child ramps against the harness and has the neck and head thrown forward.

    Even if rearfacing had common leg injuries like forward facing, the ability to prevent extremely serious and typically fatal injuries to the spine and head would override the potential injury to the legs. This grandpa shares the story of his grandchild Joel, 18 months old:

    I have seen children rearfacing to 5 years of age and their legs are not "mashed up." I can't imagine a child properly harnessed receiving a head injury from hitting the knees...unless for some reason the child was unsafely putting her knees straight up in front of her...which would be difficult and uncomfortable to do when properly harnessed.

    This video shows children of all ages rearfacing for a better idea of how the feet can be positioned:

    This study in the British Medical Journal reviewed car accidents:

    "A retrospective cohort study involving 870 children aged under 2 years analysed the protection offered by rear facing compared with forward facing child restraints.3 It concluded that rear facing seats were more effective than forward facing seats in protecting children aged 0-23 months for all crash types (odds ratio 1.76, 95% confidence interval 1.40 to 2.20) (box). "

    But you know, if it remains something you personally worry about, you can get the same seat in this photo with an anti-rebound bar. It's the True Fit Premiere.

    You can see the rebound bar in this video:

    It's at :22 and 1:19. I think it costs $189 regular priced.

  17. Hi Ladies!
    I've been in the baby industry for nearly a decade now and there are common myths.
    I actually write a five page article in our magazine Birth of a Mother a few issue back because of all the questions we constantly receive.

    Each seat has very different height and weight restrictions, so you should always go by what the individual car seat states. I find no one has the right answer because of that fact - even your public health nurses will be incorrect often times.
    Canada in particular has changed their views on length and weight of children, in the rear facing position in particular. They have decided to follow the lead of Great Britain and recommend that the child stay in a rear facing position - even if there legs are hanging over, for as long as possible.
    The myth of leg and hips damage during collision is just that; as there was no conclusive evidence during crash tests. In fact they found that most children rear-facing, with feet against the seat and knees slightly bend, had a more neutral spine position and helped protect them during collision.

    This is a simulation of the effects:

    Always double check your seat, it's manual and it's specific requirements - because not only are each company and seat different, the industry/government standards change YEARLY.

    Feel free to message me if you have any questions!

  18. That is good information about how much head room they need. My Daughter is a tiny thing (19lbs at 15m) and has lots of room to grow in her convertible seat but still informative. Yesterday I saw a photo on FB of a 2 year old in a booster, no 5 point harness, just a lap buckle. Idiot.

  19. I am SO happy to have read this this morning! I have a slight problem and I hope that maybe some of you could lend some advice.
    My neighbor, who I have never said more than hello to, has a son that was born a month after our daughter. This would make him about 8 months now. The other day I happened to glance into her car and I noticed that she had started using the convertible seat. We have been using ours for several months as well. I noticed however, that she had hers facing forward. I thought maybe she had just put it in the car like this temporarily as they use 2 different cars between both parents. Much to my dismay I have realized that she is using the seat forward facing with her 8 month old!!!! What do I do???? I am fairly certain she just has NO idea.



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