Homegrown with Hope: Common car seat safety mistakes

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BISMARCK, N.D. - As the weather gets cold, parents should be aware that keeping your kids in warm winter coats could put your kids at greater risk in a crash if the car seat is not used properly.

That's one lesson transportation safety experts are hoping to teach parents, as they say four out of five car seats in North Dakota are used incorrectly.

In this Homegrown with Hope, I'm sharing what I was doing wrong so you don't make the same mistakes.

I dropped by the car seat check-up at Puklich Chevrolet having read the books and taken the classes. I was sure my family's car seat safety was just right. But, right away, Custer Health employees saw what I was doing wrong.

First, keeping Lucy's car seat behind the driver's seat meant I was opening her door on the side of oncoming traffic. They say the center seat is safest.

"In the case of a side-impact crash, you would have both sides. It's just a little more space to give," Chelsey Trebas of Custer Health said.

If the center seat isn't an option, positioning a baby behind the passenger seat is the next best option.

Next, the experts say children shouldn't wear those bulky winter coats or snowsuits while in their car seats. They say the material can compress in a crash and leave room for a child to be ejected from the seat.

"Even a light sweatshirt would be okay and just put blankets over the top," Trebas suggested. "But, don't ever do anything that would compromise the harness."

A car seat cover works to insulate baby from the frigid weather, just be sure to get one that fits over the top of the seat.

"They do make cover that go under the baby and then over the top. We don't recommend those because it's interfering with the harness."

It's all about keeping that harness snug against her chest. Trebas recommends using the pinch test: pinching the seat strap. If you can pick up any of the belt between your fingers, it's too loose.

The harness should fit at shoulder level or just below.

One of the most common mistakes the experts see is placing the chest clip piece too low on baby's body. It should fit right at her armpits. That way, the piece isn't resting on soft organs and rather lays against the child's chest, which can better withstand impact.

As we switched her seat to the passenger side, they checked the seat's recline level which will help to keep Lucy's airways open as she gains strength and control of her neck.

The whole visit took just 20 minutes, well worth my time to learn how to protect her as life gets even busier.

It's important information for children of all ages. The data collected from these checkups in 2017 shows 73% of families aren't following the guidelines for car seats, booster seats or seat belts.

Car seat check-ups are held every month at either Puklich Chevrolet or Bill Barth Ford. For a schedule, click here.