Car seat safety

Posted by Barbara F. Meltz  September 24, 2009 06:00 AM

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Question:
My 2-year-old grandson is able to unlatch all the belts holding him in on his car seat. I don't believe he is the only one able to do this. Does anyone know of something that can be purchased to cover the latches, like a sheath or something, or how you were able to correct this. It is impossible to drive anywhere alone with him, there has to be someone in the back seat to make sure he doesn't get out of the seat. Thank you for any assistance you can provide. Thank you.
From: Donna, Georgetown

Hi Donna --

That is one strong grandson you've got! In fact, it's so rare for a toddler to be able to generate the pressure it takes to manipulate these latches that children's car seat expert Ben Hoffman suggests there is something wrong with the buckles, or that he's in the wrong kind of car seat.

Hoffman, a member of the American Academy of Pediatrics' committee on injury, violence & poison prevention, says it takes 12 to 15 pounds of pressure to open the buckles on a properly installed car seat, "more than the typical 2-year-old can generate."

Is it possible your grandson is in booster seat rather than a 5-point harness? The 5-point harness is the only appropriate car seat for a 2-year-old. If he's physically big enough for a booster seat (and too big for a rear- or forward-facing seat), it is possible he could manage to manipulate the latches.

In either case, Hoffman suggests getting the current car seat inspected. The National Highway Traffic and Safety Association has a Child Safety Seat Inspection Locator which will tell you where you can go in your zip code to find an inspector. So does seatcheck.org.

With an older child who learns to manipulate the latches on a booster seat, a parent's recourse is zero-tolerance. "You need to pull the car over and say simply, 'This car cannot move unless your seat belt is latched,'" Hoffman said. A 4-year-old is able to understand the consequences and when parents literally stop the car or refuse to start, the behavior typically disappears quickly. But a 2-year-old is not cognitively able to understand those consequences.

If you have more questions about car seat safety, Hoffman is willing to help. Contact him at Safer New Mexico Now. By the way, according to that organization, three out of four children's car seats are improperly installed. Yikes!


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3 comments so far...
  1. DON'T put something on the latch that will cause the child to be totally unable to undo it him/herself. Do as Hoffman suggests and pull the car over until the child re-latches the seatbelt.

    If, by some awful chance, the child is accidentally left in the car alone, the child would be able to get him/herself out of the car and possibly save his/her life!

    I wish my nephew would've been able to unlatch his car seat. He might still be alive today if he had.

    Posted by Catharine September 24, 09 04:55 PM
  1. As a Child Passenger Safety Technician, I have to agree with Hoffman on this. The child, the car seat & owners manual, and the vehicle and owner's manual, should go to an inspection station. They can be found at
    https://ssl13.cyzap.net/dzapps/dbzap.bin/apps/assess/webmembers/tool?pToolCode=TAB9&pCategory1=TAB9_CERTSEARCH&Webid=SAFEKIDSCERTSQL or at http://www.nhtsa.gov/cps/cpsfitting/index.cfm

    Posted by Shirley Doucette - CPST September 24, 09 09:27 PM
  1. I don't think it is that rare for small children to figure out how to unlatch their car seats belts. My 3 year and 6 year old can do it on the first attempt. I personally know some people whose children seem to be able to do that too. Your "zero tolerance" advise is neither helpful nor constructive. You can't pull over when you're driving on the highway or in the middle of the busy city street. Besides, my children seem to think it is fun to get mommy to stop the car whenever they like it (i.e. unlatch the seat, the car stops). They only are able to unlatch the upper latch of the car seat to free their arms, but it is obviously enough to get them hurt in case of an accident. I wish people would think of some way to prevent this from happening instead of giving an advise to inspect your car seats or teach your child not to do it (like we don't already know that!!!!). My 6 year old is a special needs child (she's sort of at three year old level) with a speech delay, so simply explaining to her that it is dangerous to unlatch the seat is not very productive.

    Posted by Asia October 13, 09 12:46 AM
 
3 comments so far...
  1. DON'T put something on the latch that will cause the child to be totally unable to undo it him/herself. Do as Hoffman suggests and pull the car over until the child re-latches the seatbelt.

    If, by some awful chance, the child is accidentally left in the car alone, the child would be able to get him/herself out of the car and possibly save his/her life!

    I wish my nephew would've been able to unlatch his car seat. He might still be alive today if he had.

    Posted by Catharine September 24, 09 04:55 PM
  1. As a Child Passenger Safety Technician, I have to agree with Hoffman on this. The child, the car seat & owners manual, and the vehicle and owner's manual, should go to an inspection station. They can be found at
    https://ssl13.cyzap.net/dzapps/dbzap.bin/apps/assess/webmembers/tool?pToolCode=TAB9&pCategory1=TAB9_CERTSEARCH&Webid=SAFEKIDSCERTSQL or at http://www.nhtsa.gov/cps/cpsfitting/index.cfm

    Posted by Shirley Doucette - CPST September 24, 09 09:27 PM
  1. I don't think it is that rare for small children to figure out how to unlatch their car seats belts. My 3 year and 6 year old can do it on the first attempt. I personally know some people whose children seem to be able to do that too. Your "zero tolerance" advise is neither helpful nor constructive. You can't pull over when you're driving on the highway or in the middle of the busy city street. Besides, my children seem to think it is fun to get mommy to stop the car whenever they like it (i.e. unlatch the seat, the car stops). They only are able to unlatch the upper latch of the car seat to free their arms, but it is obviously enough to get them hurt in case of an accident. I wish people would think of some way to prevent this from happening instead of giving an advise to inspect your car seats or teach your child not to do it (like we don't already know that!!!!). My 6 year old is a special needs child (she's sort of at three year old level) with a speech delay, so simply explaining to her that it is dangerous to unlatch the seat is not very productive.

    Posted by Asia October 13, 09 12:46 AM
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Barbara F. Meltz is a freelance writer, parenting consultant, and author of "Put Yourself in Their Shoes: Understanding How Your Children See the World." She won several awards for her weekly "Child Caring" column in the Globe, including the 2008 American Psychological Association Print Excellence award. Barbara is available as a speaker for parent groups.

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