Costlier car seat doesn't mean safer; new is better

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INDIANAPOLIS (WTHR) — Many parents know car seats provide necessary protection for kids in the case of a car crash, but car crashes are still a leading cause of death for kids from 1 to 13, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Indiana law requires children be in a car safety restraint until age 8. Installing car seats correctly is critical, but so is knowing where your car seat came from, and realizing even car seats have expiration dates.

Alexis Thomas knew she needed a car seat for her new baby, but didn't know what it entailed. She turned to Riley Hospital for help. “I want everything that I didn't get as a child for my child and safety is one of those,” says Thomas.

According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, 328 children under 5 years old were saved by car seats in 2016. That's one reason why Riley representatives hold car seat clinics — a one-stop shop to car seat safety. Riley Hospital will provide free seats for those that meet financial criteria, but do sell them at cost in their safety store. Car seat inspections with IU Health and Riley Hospital for Children are done by appointment and take about 30-45 minutes. You can request an inspection appointment by calling or texting 317-499-4779.

Michelle Chappelow, the Riley Hospital child passenger safety coordinator, says “It is important to get the education piece along with the car seat, because if you just have the car seat, but you don't use it correctly, it's not going to be as protective in protecting your child if you're in a crash."

Doctor Joe O'Neil, a Professor of Clinical Pediatrics with Riley Hospital says car seats are a public health success story, but there's still a lot to know. He says car seats take wear and tear from cars braking and taking off. Materials change from kids getting in and out of them and drinks being spilled. Many parents may not know that car seats have expiration dates. Some manufacturers put the expiration date on the back of the car seat. But if you don't see it, call the manufacturer to find out. The usual lifespan is between 6 and 10 years, according to Dr. O’Neil. He also says manufacturers are good about taking expired car seats off store shelves.

When shopping for a car seat, experts say buying a new car seat is best. “We want to make sure that the seat hasn't been in a crash because if it's been in a crash, and served its purpose, it's time to go into retirement, " Dr O'Neil explained. New means you know its history, and you can fill out the registration card to receive recall information. He also says car seat recalls don't happen often, but with millions of them in production, things pop up. He says the manufacturers are good about alerting owners to any issues. However, buying new doesn't mean spending the most. More money doesn't mean a safer seat. It doesn't matter if its a low expense car seat, or the real expensive car seat, they all have to pass the same safety standards” says O’Neil. Both O'Neil and the U.S. government recommend keeping your child in a rear-facing car seat as long as possible, as it offers the best protection of the spine and vital organs.

"When people ask me what's the best seat to buy, it's the seat that fits your child, fits the car, and is used correctly every time," explains O'Neil.

Types of safety seats

There are 4 types of safety seats for children. For newborns to at least 3 years old, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration recommends parents use rear-facing seats. They offer the best protection of a child's spine and vital organs if there is a crash.

The next level is the forward-facing car seat. This one turns the seat around and uses a harness to hold the car seat back in case of an accident.

When they reach the maximum height and weight for these car seats, parents can transition their child into a booster seat. These use a seat belt to secure the child, but parents need to make sure the seat belt fits the child appropriately to protect them. And make sure it covers the right areas of the child's body and is not too loose.

Around the age of 8 years old, some children are big enough to use only a seat belt. But experts say children should still sit in the back seat for maximum protection.