Mother placing child in car seat

(Photo by Artem Varnitsin on Shutterstock)

CHICAGO — Top-rated child car seats, with a five-star rating for ease of use, often get improperly installed. In a recent study, researchers from the Ann & Robert H. Lurice Children’s Hospital of Chicago are emphasizing the need for more assistance to guarantee children’s safety in vehicles.

Child restraint systems (CRSs) — devices designed to protect children in case of a crash — can cut the risk of injuries by 50 to 85 percent. However, installation mistakes can reduce these safety benefits. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) developed the Ease of Use (EOU) rating system to help parents choose the right car seats. This system ranks child restraint features on a scale of one to five stars.

Despite this system guiding consumers, errors remain prevalent. While new parents usually get training on car seat installation before their child’s birth, follow-up resources are vital.

“New parents often receive training on car seat installation before the baby is born,” says Dr. Michelle Macy, the study’s lead author and emergency medicine physician at Children’s Hospital of Chicago and associate professor of pediatrics at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, in a media release. “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 rear-facing car seat, and then again when switching to the seat to face forward.”

Mother putting child in car seat
(© pololia –

The study drew on data from Safe Kids Illinois seat check records spanning 2015 to 2019 and compared it with EOU ratings from 2008 to 2020. The findings pointed out that mistakes were more frequent with seats using seat belts (70%) and less so with the recline angle at 37 percent. Surprisingly, even with five-star rated seats, about 50 percent of users incorrectly managed the top tether – a vital strap on forward-facing car seats. This strap should be attached to a specific anchor point in the vehicle, but many parents either skip this step or secure it wrongly.

“Overall, our study results show that parents can rely on the car seat rating system when choosing an appropriate car seat for their child,” says Dr. Macy. “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.”

For those seeking guidance on car seat installation, the NHTSA website offers a directory to find local certified child passenger safety technicians. These professionals can inspect seat installations or guide parents on how to set up and use car seats properly.

The study is published in the journal Traffic Injury Prevention.

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