Baby Car Safety: 11 Major Things to Keep in Mind

A toddler sits in her car seat

As a new parent, you finally reach the point where you’re ready to leave the house. But traveling with an infant is no joke; not to mention it’s scary thinking about how crazy other drivers are.

Car injuries are a leading cause of death among young children. So while you can’t control the other drivers on the road, you can control how safe your child is inside your car and her car seat by knowing proper car seat selection, installation and usage methods and safety tips.

Use a rear-facing car seat.

There are three car seat types for babies: infant-only, convertible and all-in-one (3-in-1) car seats. Infant-only seats last about one year, while the other two will grow with your child through his toddler years. Some parents opt to buy travel systems, which is when a company bundles a car seat and stroller together into what some refer to as a car stroller. Ergobaby’s reversible stroller works with a handful of infant car seats and can easily be turned into a travel system with its car seat adapter, letting you use the car seat you prefer while using the best stroller on the market.

Test before you buy.

Some stores let you take car seats out to your car and try them out before you buy them. This is great because not all car seats work in all cars. You want to make sure the one you buy works in your car and that you’re able to correctly install it.

The middle of the back seat is the safest seat.

The safety and comfort of your baby are your top priority when you’re home, but especially when you leave it. So if you’re looking for the safest place in your car to put your baby, it’s the middle back seat. Some cars have too small or narrow of a middle back seat for car seats or they don’t have a lower anchor system, though. If your middle of the back seat is too small or you have captain’s chairs, then obviously you have to tightly install your child’s car seat on one of the side seats.

Read the car seat manual.

It may be a long, boring read, but it’s a necessary read. Your car seat manual tells you everything you need to know to keep your baby as safe as possible, from all the different car seat parts and what they do to installation instructions. So grab yourself a Diet Coke and get to reading (and make your partner read it, too).

Do the 1-inch wiggle test.

A car seat’s base should be installed tight; so tight in fact that it should only move 1 inch or less from side to side and then forward away from the back seat. After installing your car seat, move it to make sure it only moves these directions 1 inch or less. If it moves more, you need to more tightly secure the base.


Keep rear-facing car seats at a 45-degree angle.

As a new parent, you may not know that rear-facing car seats should be installed at a 45-degree angle. Sometimes car seats are positioned too upright. Not being at the right angle can block your baby’s airways or cause his head to fall forward and cut off his airway so he can’t breathe. Most car seats these days have built-in levels so you can clearly tell if your child’s car seat is at the right angle or not. But be sure to install your car seat and check its incline only when your car is parked on level ground.

Do the pinch test.

When your baby is strapped in, the harness or shoulder straps need to be tight, and not twisted, over her body at or below her shoulders. Try to pinch each strap between your thumb and forefinger. If you can pinch the harness straps together on either side, it’s too loose. You want snug, with no slack, but also not too tight. You’ll know what’s safe for your baby.

Position the retainer clip at armpit level.

A car seat’s retainer clip should rest across your baby’s breastbone. Correct positioning of the retainer clip ensures the harness straps are also in the correct position. Sometimes you’ll have to move the clip to take your child in and out of his car seat, so always make sure to adjust it back to the right position when you put him in it.

Take off bulky clothes while in the car seat.

As a parent, you want to keep your baby warm. And during the winter, it’s cold outside and oftentimes cold inside the car, too. But, you should never keep your child’s coat or jacket on while in her car seat. The harness straps will be too loose, so if you were to get in an accident, they wouldn’t do their job of snugly helping your baby stop and stay in her seat. Your baby could also overheat once the car warms up.

Don’t turn your child around too soon.

This is a hot topic for parents. It’s common knowledge to keep your child rear facing in his car seat until he’s at least 2 years old, but the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends keeping children rear facing in a car seat for as long as possible, until they reach the maximum weight and height limit given by the manufacturer of the car seat. Some convertible car seats allow kids to ride rear-facing past the age of 2.

Be careful about the toys you choose.

Baby toys and mirrors are handy. They keep your baby entertained while in the car. But be smart about the type of accessories you buy. Get ones made specifically for car seats, and make sure any mirrors or toys are securely strapped down and can’t become a choking hazard.

If you’re ever unsure if your car seat is properly installed or used, don’t hesitate to stop by your local fire department, police station or hospital. They’re happy to do a safety check for you. You can also call a local Child Passenger Safety Technician.

Kirsten Metcalf is a writer, editor and mother to a hilarious but very strong-willed toddler and a beautiful baby girl. She started writing short stories in elementary school and years later became a sports reporter and editor. Now, she mainly writes marketing, religious and parenting-related blog posts. Even before she knew she wanted to be a writer, Kirsten knew she wanted to be a mom. She knows being a mom is one of the most rewarding but hardest jobs out there, which is why she loves being able to share parenting knowledge and support to other moms through her writing. When she actually wins negotiations with her toddler, Kirsten likes to reward herself by watching KU basketball, eating cheesecake, or going on a Target run by herself.

September 26, 2018