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Most child car seats installed incorrectly, say experts

by John Gomez | Last Updated: November 9, 2009

November 9, 2009 – Child car seat use is at an all-time high in the United States. But the fact that most parents are using child safety seats does not mean their children are properly restrained.

That point was illustrated in two recent Inland-area crashes that left one baby dead and two others with major injuries.

Last month, child car seats carrying 6-month-old twins were flung about the back seat of the vehicle the boys’ mother was driving when she crashed into a culvert along Highway 74 east of Lake Elsinore.  One of the twins died, his seat left entangled in the backseat straps.  The other twin, whose seat landed on the rear floor, suffered major injuries and is still hospitalized.

In another crash, on Highway 74 near Perris in August, a toddler was ejected from the vehicle he was riding in, car seat and all. He, too, suffered major injuries.

According to the latest research from the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration, 99 percent of children up to 1 year old are restrained, as are 87 percent of children younger than age 8.

Yet 3 out of 4 child safety seats are used incorrectly, a survey by the NHTSA showed.

In both of the recent Inland crashes, the seats were being used in ways that were obviously incorrect, California Highway Patrol officials said, but more typical errors can also lead to serious injury.

Help Is Available

All CHP offices have trained technicians available. Parents who would like assistance may schedule a free appointment at their local CHP office, said CHP Officer Ron Thatcher, a certified installation technician.

Thatcher said the vast majority of car seats they inspect are improperly installed, some of them egregiously so. They often see bungee cables used to attach the seat. Thatcher recalled one case in which a father had used a chain.

Officers once stopped a vehicle in which jumper cables were holding the child car seat in place.

Read Instructions

Since September 2002, most car seats and vehicles manufactured are required to have special restraint system, known as LATCH, designed to make child safety seat installation easier. But some parents are unaware their vehicles are equipped with this feature and, even when they do use the LATCH system, they still make mistakes.

Another problem is that parents in a rush might not reinstall car seats properly after they have been removed temporarily, at a car wash, for instance.

Thatcher said that parents should not to use hand-me-down car seats because the seats often do not come with instructions and parents also might not know how old the seat is or whether it has been in a crash.  In addition, car seats that are 6 years old or older should be retired.

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