How safe is your child in the car?

How safe is your child in the car?

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reports that car crashes are a leading cause of death for children, and many weren’t buckled in correctly.

Andrea DuMez, a child passenger safety technician (CPST) and registered nurse at Aurora Sheboygan Memorial Medical Center in Sheboygan, Wis., performs nearly 150 car seat checks a year, and she takes that role very seriously.

“Having your child in the right seat, installed correctly, could be the difference between life and death,” DuMez says. “Many parents assume their child is restrained properly, but frequently learn that is not the case.”

“Child restraint systems are often used incorrectly. An estimated 46 percent of car and booster seats are misused, reducing their effectiveness,” the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports.

DuMez explains that the safest position for your child is a rear-facing car seat for as long as they can. She provides the following guidelines as a good rule of thumb as your child matures:

  • Keep your child in a rear-facing car seat until they are at least two years old AND 20 pounds. Be sure to read your car seat manual and have them in a seat appropriate for their weight, height and age.
  • Ensure your child is secured with a five-point harness until they are at least four years old AND 40 pounds. Check your car seat manual to be sure your child fits within the requirements.
  • A booster seat is necessary until your child is eight years old, weighs 80 pounds or is 4’9” tall, but they should be able to sit in a seat without slouching. The seat belt should sit snugly across the top of their thighs and across their shoulder.
  • Until your child is 13, they should ride in the back seat.

DuMez shares that one of the most important lessons she teaches is to set a good example.

“Always use a seat belt! If you wear it, your children are more likely to wear it,” she says.

If unsure whether your car seat is safe and installed correctly, there many resources available for parents. Car seat checks are free, and local “check events” can be found at Many hospitals, fire stations and public health departments also serve as resources to help you find an event or a technician.

DuMez says there are also initial steps parents can take at home to ensure their child is secure and safe:

  • Always read your car and car seat manual.
  • Whether you use the LATCH system or a seat belt, a quick check can be done by grabbing the car seat at the belt pathway and moving the seat from side to side. The seat should not move more than one inch.
  • The harness should fit snug against your child. If you can pinch fabric between your fingers, tighten the strap. When rear-facing, the straps should come from at or below your child’s shoulder and when forward-facing, the straps should come from at or above your child’s shoulder.
  • When using a tether anchor for a forward-facing car seat only, check your manual for use of the correct anchor, which is generally located behind the seat, in the trunk or on the ceiling.
  • Do not put your child in bulky clothing. When compressed, the straps leave an unsafe gap. Instead, wrap a blanket over your child after strapping them in correctly, have older children put coats on backwards after buckling in or purchase a car seat poncho.

And for parents unsure of what to look for when purchasing a car seat, DuMez has the following advice:

  • After-market additions are not tested to those federal standards, so you want to purchase a car seat that has those included, such as padding in the seat or around the straps.
  • Be sure to read labels and know the seat height, weight and age limitations. The labels provide important information such as the expiration date and model number, which are useful for registering your seat, so you are notified of recalls or safety issues.
  • Never buy a seat without labels, as this is an indication that they are “fake” and do not follow federal standards.
  • Never buy or borrow a seat from anyone who you don’t know and trust. Even if a car seat has been in a minor car accident and appears okay, the integrity of the seat is compromised and should no longer be used.

One last piece of advice DuMez has is to know the laws in your state.

“Car seats are held to federal standards, so it’s important to know the laws and the recommendations for your child. Resources like Safe Kids can help keep you in the know,” she says.

Andrea DuMez is a 2019 Advocate Aurora Health Nurse of the Year recipient honored for her excellence, compassion and respect in nursing.

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About the Author

Chelsea Schwabe
Chelsea Schwabe

Chelsea Schwabe is a public affairs and marketing operations manager for Advocate Health Care and Aurora Health Care. She has eight years of experience in creative storytelling, PR campaign development, and media relations. She holds a bachelor’s degree in strategic communications from the University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee. When not working as a wordsmith, she can be found hiking mountains, enjoying music, and riding her motorcycle.