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Consider some statistics gathered by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS): Since the mid-1970s, the number of children under three years old who die in car crashes has lowered by 66 percent. Similarly, the number of infants who die in crashes has dropped by 80 percent. The fatalities have decreased even though the number of children riding in vehicles has concurrently increased by 5%.
What has changed in the past 40 years? Most significantly, it is the use of car seats and booster seats. A report by the National Institute of Health (NIH) concluded that a properly used restraint system can lower fatal injuries to a child by 70 to 80 percent.
Do Car Seats Really Expire?
Your existing car seat worked perfectly well for your older child. Why should you invest in a new one for your newborn? Aren’t car seat expiration dates just a ploy by manufacturers to scare you into spending money on a newer model you don’t actually need? Would you give your sick child medicine that expired five years ago? Of course you wouldn’t, because that medicine is no longer effective.
Your current model may still look great, but the damage done to an old car seat is not necessarily visible to the naked eye. Think about the conditions you put a car seat through. Day after day, it sits in the back seat of your car, pelted by the sun’s damaging rays. If you live in a cold climate, it is subjected to extreme weather as your car is stationed in your driveway or a parking lot. Car seats are primarily made out of plastic. Have you ever mistakenly left a toy outside for an extended period of time until it was damaged beyond use? Have you noticed that your lawn furniture begins to deteriorate after a few years of consistent outdoor wear and tear? As durable as they are, plastics do break down over time. They crack and tear, and parts become loose. When subjected to the stress of a car crash, brittle plastic is not dependable.
The car seat is one of very few products that is specifically designed to save your child’s life. New design features are being created every day in order to increase its effectiveness in doing just that. Today’s professional football players don’t use the same helmets as their 1960s counterparts. Over the years, helmets have been tweaked and improved to keep the players as safe as possible. Apply that same logic to car seats. It is important to take advantage of the latest in technology to keep your children as safe as possible. If you wouldn’t send your child onto the field in a 1960s football helmet, why would you place him or her in an outdated car seat? Take a look at a car seat that was designed five to 10 years ago and compare it to a brand-new model. You’ll notice differences in design and materials.
If your vehicle is a 2003 model or later, it is equipped with the LATCH system. LATCH stands for Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children. The system allows you to attach your child’s car seat to the car using secure metal anchors. Car seats must be tightly secured in the car so that even pushing or pulling on them cannot move them more than an inch. The LATCH system is designed to increase that security and keep your child as safe as possible in the case of an accident. All car seats manufactured after September of 2002 are designed to be compatible with LATCH.
Many car seat manufacturers fit their products with safety features that exceed the current federal standards for safety. These features that are considered extras today will likely become federally mandated in the future. Thanks to industry research, crash tests, and advancing technologies, car seats will continue to feature new innovations year after year.
Consider the SafeCell Impact Protection technology from Britax. It is a combination of parts that work together to keep your child secure. It is designed to absorb energy and limit movement in a collision. Side impact protection shields your child from flying debris and absorbs crash forces. It provides extra protection for your child’s head and neck. An impact-absorbing base counteracts forward movement so that your child does not collide with the front seat upon impact. An impact-stabilizing steel frame provides extra strength.
Britax’s ClickTight system is designed to provide even easier and more secure installation than LATCH. The system has no weight restrictions and uses only the car’s existing seat belt path for secure attachment. Unlike LATCH, it can also be used in the car’s center and third row.
How Do I Know if My Car Seat Has Expired?
Generally, most car seats expire around six years after their initial release, though some can be used for up to ten years. To find out if your specific seat has expired, check the manufacturer label on the unit. This is usually located on the bottom or on the side of the car seat. If you can’t find a label, check the instruction manual that came with the seat. If you still can’t find the information, call the manufacturer directly. With certain models, some parts can expire before others. Make sure you have the complete expiration information about your model before trusting it with your child’s safety.
It is also possible for an older model car seat to be recalled due to faulty parts or operation without you being aware of it. Therefore, it is imperative to stay on top of any news about your specific model. You can check for any recall information on the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) website at safercar.gov. You can also register your car seat with the site and sign up for updates and recall notices. Some organizations, like hospitals or local police departments, offer free car seat inspections. Their technicians can examine your car seat, show you how to use it properly, and help you choose a new one if necessary. Your local American Automobile Association (AAA) can help you locate an inspection station near you.
What Are the Federal Standards for Car Seat Manufacturers?
Car seat manufacturers must design their products to meet specific NHTSA mandated performance standards, also known as the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard 213. Most importantly, each child restraint system must pass a test that simulates a collision at 30 miles per hour. Additionally, the system must meet flammability requirements, have adequate buckle release pressure, and meet certain requirements for padding around the head area of the seat.
LATCH systems on car seats must have two distinct sets of features. The first set is lower anchor connectors that replace seat belt installation. The second set is tether connectors designed to reduce forward motion upon impact. This second feature is not a requirement for rear-facing car seats.
Finally, each car seat must also have a visible label that lists instructions for installation and use, verification that it has passed required safety tests, the name and address of the manufacturer, and the date the product was manufactured.
What Are the Car Seat Laws?
Each of the 50 states plus the District of Columbia have car seat laws on their books. These laws require that children under a certain age must be placed in an appropriate child restraint system when traveling in a vehicle. However, the specifics of the laws vary from state to state. You can find the exact laws of your state by visiting the IIHS website at iihs.org.
It is a parent or driver’s responsibility to ensure that a child is properly fastened when riding in a vehicle. Depending on the state, failure to adhere to the law can result in monetary fines. Some states penalize noncompliance by giving drivers points on their licenses.
Generally, children aged two or younger should be placed in a rear-facing car seat. This is a recommendation of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). In fact, the NHTSA recommends that you keep your child in a rear-facing seat for as long as possible. Once your child physically outgrows a rear-facing seat, it is time to switch to a forward-facing seat with a tether and a harness. A child typically outgrows a forward-facing seat between 4 and 7 years old, depending on his or her weight and height. At this point, it is time to use a booster seat. A booster seat should be used until the child is big enough to safely use a regular seat belt.
When driving, your child is your most precious cargo. Expiration dates on car seats must be taken seriously; they are meant to help keep your child as safe as possible while out on the road. Even the most safety-conscious drivers are not immune to vehicle collisions. Your choice of car seat is one of the most important decisions you’ll make as a parent to a young child. Don’t make the mistake of trying to stretch the life of your current model. If your car seat has expired or is about to expire, it is time to invest in a new one. Not only will your child be safer, but you’ll enjoy peace of mind that you’re doing everything in your control to keep him or her secure.