According to the CDC, car accidents are a leading cause of death for kids in the United States. And yet, experts say that most of these deaths are actually preventable — the key lies in proper car seat use.
Of course, most parents know that car seat safety isn’t something to take lightly. But let’s be real; the laundry list of rules surrounding how to properly install and use car seats can feel kind of overwhelming and even confusing at times. And it doesn’t help that we often get conflicting information from friends, family, the Internet, and even the car seat manufacturers themselves.
But at least one expert is here to set the record straight about how to properly instal a car seat, and how to tell if yours meets the standards.
In a viral Facebook post shared on June 30, Krystal Kleidon of Project Hot Mess shared some car seat safety wisdom from her many years as a paramedic — along with a striking photo of her 4-year-old son, hanging upside down in his car seat. (More on that in a minute.)
Kleidon begins her post by saying that she totally gets how the “mommy world” can get pretty contentious when it comes to discussing car seat safety. (Especially online — as anyone who’s ever read the comments section on a car seat post can vouch for!)
“I’m a member of a lot of mothers groups and communities and the discussion around car seats is ALWAYS a heated one,” writes Kleidon. “People give their opinions on rear facing vs. forward facing, side seat vs middle seat, chest clip height (FYI — Australia doesn’t use chest clips), straps, wearing jumpers … if there’s something to have an opinion on, it has been discussed before.”
And that’s where Kleidon’s firsthand experience — not only as a mom, but as a paramedic — comes in. In fact, she and her husband are both paramedics. Between the two of them, they have 20 years of experience dealing with emergency situations, many of them centered around the heartbreaking reality of fatal car crashes.
“We have been to more car accidents than you could imagine and seen more mangled car seats than I’d like to share,” Kleidon shares.
And here’s where she gets to the most illuminating part of her post: Kleidon explains that in all the car crashes she’s witnessed involving children and car seats, there’s one feature that stands out — one single piece of car safety advice that literally can mean life or death for thousands of kids each year.
Here it is: It’s that kids really, really must be strapped in tightly in their car seats. Tighter than you might think.
“Between my husband and I, in our 20 years experience, we have NOT seen a single child harmed in a car accident where the child was restrained in their seat properly. Not a single one,” writes Kleidon.
How’s that for eye-opening?
Even if we’ve thought of every possible car seat safety precaution, I don’t think most parents realize just how much it comes down to something as simple as being properly strapped in.
Kleidon then goes on to describe this phenomenon from the perspective of a paramedic, in pretty graphic, but enlightening detail:
“We’ve seen car seats ejected from vehicles, we’ve seen cars that have rolled over so many times you can barely tell which way is up, we’ve seen accidents where you would be certain there would be no survivors. But in our experience, the biggest difference between a child’s safety hasn’t been if they were in the $600 car seat or the $200 one. It’s been about those straps.”
But how can you know for sure that your child is properly strapped in? Kleidon explains that you can use some basic common sense for that. For example, if it doesn’t look like your child could pull their arms out of the straps, you’re probably in good shape. She also explains that you should only be able to slip one or two fingers beneath the straps. And Kleidon echoes the advice that many car seat safety experts often give: No bulky winter coats in car seats!
But her biggest “hack” for figuring out if your child’s car seat straps are tight enough? She recommends you consider the question of whether or not you would be confident in flipping your kid upside down while they’re in their car seat, as she and her husband do in the picture of her son that accompanies her post.
“Would you be confident in doing THIS to them? Would you be confident in turning your child upside down in their seat?” Kleidon asks.
“Car seats have incredible safety designs now,” Kleidon continues. “[T]hey are designed to cocoon your child, protect them as they roll and are thrown around in an accident, but they can only do this if your child is restrained properly.”
I’m pretty sure that the next time I strap my own 4-year-old in, I’ll be thinking of this very question, and picturing Kleidon’s son grinning happily in his car seat while his parents swing him around.
In all seriousness, though, I’m really grateful that this mom is sharing her expertise and knowledge with the world. This clever, yet simple trick is a perfect illustration of what car safety boils down to. And it could literally save a life.