Almost 40 percent of parents turn their baby’s car seat from rear- to front-facing too soon. It’s a troubling trend that led the American Association of Pediatrics (AAP) to update its car seat safety guidelines this summer, recommending that parents keep infants and toddlers in rear-facing car seats until they’re at least 2-years-old or exceed the height and weight limits allowed by the manufacturer. It makes sense: Why put a child at risk unnecessarily if they don’t need to be?
READ MORE: The Fatherly Guide to Car Seats
Turns out, that’s not the worst of it. A new study released this week by Safe Kids Worldwide, a Washington DC-based nonprofit dedicated to preventing childhood injuries, found that 64 percent of parents with forward-facing car seats weren’t using the seat’s top tether. Of those who were, more than 50 percent weren’t attaching it properly, often fastening it to a cargo hook or routing it to a lower anchor. The reason for not using it, despite the fact that it takes practically no extra time to connect, was pretty straightforward: a lot of parents didn’t know it even existed. That or they assumed it was a secondary, alternate way to secure the car seat.
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A top tether is actually the strap and hook that hangs from the back of the car seat. It may be tucked away or hidden but when correctly secured to the vehicle, it prevents a forward-facing car seat from toppling forward during an accident. In fact, an untethered car seat can pitch up to six inches and result in a child’s head being slammed against the front seat.
According to federal law, any vehicle manufactured after 2001 is required to have three seat anchor points, each designated by a boat anchor symbol. Depending on the type of car, the anchor is either on the ceiling, the rear shelf, or in the case of an SUV or crossover, the back of the vehicle’s seat. It only takes a minute to attach the hook and tighten the strap, but doing so notes Safe Kids, could make the difference between a child suffering a brain injury or walking away uninjured.
In fact, if you want to see the importance first hand of properly securing both your car seat and your child in it, a Pennsylvania mom recently posted a picture on Facebook of her wrecked Honda CRV next to the two, seemingly unscathed car seats that saved her sons lives. The picture has since gone viral and was covered on the Today Show.
According to Safe Kids, in 2015 car crashes “claimed the lives of 488 child passengers 8 years and under and led to more than 3,700 hospitalizations. Of those 488 children who died, a quarter were unrestrained.” How many were in untethered car seats is unclear, but again, if the car seat comes with extra protection, why would you not use it?
If you have any doubt about how to properly install your child’s car seat, you can visit the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s Car Seat Installation website or stop by your local fire department for a free inspection.