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Many parents in the United States aren't installing child car seats correctly, a new study finds.
Errors in car seat installation are common, even for seats that have a 5-star rating for features like ease of use, researchers found. The study found that fewer errors were detected when parents installed seats that had higher ratings, but researchers recommend that parents seek out safety technicians to learn the proper techniques for seat installation.
Child restraint systems cut the risk of crash injuries by 50% to 85%, but only if properly used, the researchers noted.
"New parents often receive training on car seat installation before the baby is born," said researcher Dr. Michelle Macy, an emergency medicine physician at Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children's Hospital of Chicago.
"However, it would be beneficial for them to take advantage of the available resources after the child's birth as well, especially during the transition from infant carrier to a rear-facing car seat, and then again when switching the seat to face forward," she said in a hospital news release.
For the study, Macy and her colleagues analyzed data from Safe Kids Illinois seat check records from 2015 through 2019. The most common errors were for seats installed with seat belts (70%) and the least common for recline angle (37%).
One of the more common errors that were found around 50% of the time, even with 5-star rated car seats, involved the top tether on forward-facing car seats. The top tether is the strap on top of the seat that needs to be hooked to an anchor point on the vehicle. Often parents do not attach the strap or hook it in the wrong location.
"Overall, our study results show that parents can rely on the car seat rating system when choosing an appropriate car seat for their child," Macy said. "They just need to be aware that installation and use errors can still occur even with the top-rated car seats. We encourage parents to get help from a certified technician to ensure their child's safety on the road."
The report was published July 21 in the journal Traffic Injury Prevention.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration website provides a resource directory by zip code to help parents connect with a nearby certified child passenger safety technician.
For more on child car seats, head to the U.S. National Highway Transportation Safety Administration.
SOURCES: Ann and Robert H. Lurie Children's Hospital of Chicago, news release, July 21, 2023
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