5 ways to keep your infant safe in the car

Simple tips every parent can follow

Published: April 03, 2014 07:00 AM

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One of the most daunting purchases for a new parent is deciding which car seat to buy for their newborn baby. The many factors that go into this purchasing decision, range from cost and stroller compatibility, to fabric and color options, and while those are key considerations, there are two more pressing questions to ask:

  1. Will the child seat fit securely in my car?
  2. Will my baby fit in the seat properly?

All child seats sold in the United States must comply with the government’s safety standard, but now Consumer Report’s has a new crash test that helps parents choose those seats that could offer an extra margin of safety. This information combined with our ease-of-use and fit-to-vehicle ratings can guide you toward the right child seat for your needs and help answer those questions above.

For infants, the right seat is typically a rear-facing-only seat, because they often provide the best fit for newborns and the convenience of a detachable carrier. But once the research is complete and the seat purchased, the work is not yet done.

Here are five things parents and caregivers must do to make sure their infant is safe when they travel in the car.

  • Don’t wait until the last minute to install the car seat. When you’re expecting a baby, there are many things that have to be done, but don’t leave the car seat installation until the last minute. The best way to make sure the seat is installed correctly and that you know how to properly secure your baby in the seat is to take the time to get familiar with the seat and its instructions and to go to a car seat check up event hosted by safekids.org. A Certified Child Passenger Safety Technician will help you make sure the seat is properly installed, teach you the do's and don’ts of car seat safety, and make sure you are equipped with the knowledge you need to keep your little one safe.
  • Do not put bulky blankets or coats inside the harness. Swaddling is a common practice with infants, but when placing your baby in an infant seat, it is very important that the harness is snug enough against the baby’s lightly clothed body. No harness webbing should be able to be pinched between the thumb and forefinger. Tightening the harness straps over swaddling blankets or puffy clothing can leave undetected slack in the harness, which can lead to an increased chance of injury, or even ejection from the seat during a crash. To provide extra warmth, tighten the harness first and then place the jacket or blanket on top of the child and harness.
  • Position the harness straps correctly. The proper positioning for the harness straps for a rear-facing child is at or below the shoulders. This will prevent the child from moving upward in the seat in the event of a crash. It is also important to check the straps often since kids grow quickly. Consequently, the harness may need to be frequently adjusted.

  • Position the chest clip correctly. The purpose of the chest clip is to keep the harness in the correct position right before a crash. We often see the chest clip positioned either too low, which can result in shoulder straps not fitting correctly, or too high, which can cause breathing issues. The proper place for the chest clip is at armpit level.
  • Pay attention to your child’s height as well as weight. A child that is too tall for the car seat is at an increased risk of head injury during a crash. All car seats have a height and weight limit. According to the CDC growth charts, a child is actually more likely to outgrow many infant car seats in height before he reaches the maximum weight limit of the seat, so be sure to pay attention to your child’s height relative to the shell of the seat and compare it to the height limit of the car seat.

For more tips to help you choose a car seat, see Consumer Reports buying advice and ratings.

—Michelle Tsai Podlaha

Child Car Seats

Learn more about child car seats in the links below:

Car seat buying guide

Car seat ratings

How we test child car seats

5 best seats for your baby

See our videos to learn how to install an infant, convertible, or booster seat.

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