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Child safety seats, used properly, can reduce the risk of injury, or death, by as much as 71 percent for infants and 54 percent for toddlers. According to the Wisconsin Department of Transportation, 3 out of 4 child safety seats are not used properly, putting children at risk. Other studies suggest children are at risk of injury from a car accident due to parents or care givers ignoring, or simply unaware, of current car seat safety guidelines.

Here are some car seat safety tips from expert and pediatrician Dr. Alisa Baer, also known as “The Car Seat Lady”.

Keep the car seat straps snug.

Properly secured straps do not cause pain, despite protests from some children. If you are able to fit two fingers between the child and the strap, the strap is too loose and will need to be adjusted.

Remove the bulk before buckling.

Car seat manufacturers and safety advocates warn that winter coats, snowsuits, buntings, sleeping bag inserts, head & body inserts and other ‘fluff’ are not safe in the car seat. According to Dr. Baer, winter coats and other fluff can make the straps seem snug, often super-snug, but in the instant of a crash, the fluff gets compressed which loosens the straps, leaving your child at risk of injury.

Keep your children in rear-facing car seats for as long as possible.

According to Dr. Baer, you should keep your child in a rear-facing car seat until the child is at least 2 years old, longer if possible. A common misconception among parents and care givers is that toddlers have a greater risk for leg injuries in rear-facing car seats which Dr. Baer assures is not the case. Evidence shows toddlers were five times safer riding rear-facing than forward facing.

Don’t start using a booster seat too soon and don’t stop using a booster seat too soon.

Children must be at least 4 years old, weigh 40 pounds, and be mature enough to sit properly in a booster seat. Dr. Baer says that most kids are generally around 6 years old before they are ready for a booster seat and around 10 or 12 before they can ride safely without one. The goal of a booster seat is to keep the belt properly positioned on a child’s body, specifically so the lap belt stays in position on the child’s lower hips during a crash.

Car seats expire!

Car seats are made of plastic, and plastic is a material that gets brittle with age. Be sure you know when your car seat needs replacing, particularly if you are using it with more than one child. While there are different brands with different expiration dates, most car seats expire around six or eight years.

If you have been in a car accident, it is recommended that your car seat be replaced.

Crash forces are extreme and can easily damage a car seat. Even though you may not be able to see the damage, the plastic in the car seat could be weakened by the crash and may not protect your child properly. Damaged car seats should be replaced regardless of whether or not your child was in the seat at the time of the accident. Keep in mind that most insurance companies will reimburse you for the new seat if you provide a payment receipt.

Using a car seat is the best way to protect your child from injury in the event of an accident. Make sure your child is properly buckled up in a car seat, booster seat, or seat belt, whichever is appropriate for their age, height and weight.

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