How safe does a car seat need to be?
My worst fear as a mom was that I would make some mistake that would let my kid get hurt. How could I forgive myself?
I’ve since learned that their little minds, hearts and character are more fragile than their bodies, but safety is still important.
Car seats are the number one thing you think about when it comes to baby safety. It starts at birth because you have to have an approved car seat to legally transport your infant home from the hospital.
Car Seats Are Not Equally Safe
We’ll discuss the fact that all car seats are basically safe later, but it is a fact that some car seats have more and better safety features than others.
Energy Absorption: In recent years, car seats have incorporated many different mechanisms for absorbing the energy from an impact or collision and preventing that energy from being absorbed by the baby in the seat.
One way this is done is Anti-Rebound Bars (ARB’s). These are bars, that look kind of like roll bars, that stick out from the bottom of rear-facing cart seats against the seat of the car. When there is an accident they spring against the seat and take some of the energy so that the impact to the child isn’t so abrupt.
There are several other ways car seat manufacturers do this. Baby Trend has a seat that physically slides in its base. Several manufacturers have straps with rows of stiches that are designed to tear, one row at a time, in a collision so that the force is dissipated. Other seats do a little tilt forward.
Other manufacturers like Britax have special honeycomb shaped material in the bottoms of the seats that is designed to crunch, and again, serve as an energy absorber.
Padding: Every seat has some amount of padding to both keep the seat comfortable and safe for the little occupants.
Padding is especially important for infants because they aren’t big enough to take up the whole seat and they don’t have neck strength. So infant car seats usually have side impact protection which consists have big pads that rest on both sides of baby’s head, keeping it in place in the event of side to side motion. Some seats have multiple layers of these pads.
Many other things: There are lots of other safety features like latching systems, steel frames and ergonomic belt positioning.
There are even cool techie things like Maxi Cosi’s new car seat with airbags that are attached to seat straps. And Baby Trend’s Connected Gear that has a sensor that lets you know that you accidentally left baby in the car seat or didn’t get the buckle tight enough.
How Safe is Safe Enough?
All car seats have to meet or exceed federal safety standards to be legally sold. The standards are good and they have been getting stricter each year which has resulted in fewer deaths and injuries in car accidents.
This means that you don’t have to feel guilty if you can’t afford a seat with all the latest nifty safety features.
If you use your seat properly by following the installation instructions correctly, and buckling your child in carefully each time, you will do just fine.
This is an important point because improper installation and usage is actually a bigger contributor to accidents involving car seats than car crashes. This is why the NHTSA does extensive “usability” ratings.
That means that even if you can’t afford a high-end car seat you should look for a seat that has good usability ratings.
Simply buying a travel system, where the car seat, stroller and car seat base are designed to all work together can dramatically improve safety probabilities. It will also be much easier to get the car seat in and out of the car and stroller.
Which Should You Buy?
Don’t worry! If you are reading this article, you care. You are a responsible mom. Find a seat with easy latching and buckling. Get a travel system. Expensive is great but there are lower-cost options that have good usability and safety features too.