5 Common Mistakes When Choosing a Safe Car Seat

Babies, toddlers, big kids -- we’re fans. And like you, we want to protect our junior humans with the safest car seat we can find. Not to freak you out, but the CDC says car accidents are still a leading cause of death and injury for kids under 12.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), on average, 3 children [under 14] are killed and an estimated 487 children are injured every day in the United States in traffic crashes. And overall, traffic accidents are going up.

Ok, now we are blatantly freaking you out.

Ack and sorry! It’s hard not to be alarmed when we read these stats, and we want to make sure parents have the knowledge and the gear to ensure all kiddos are as safe as can be.

The good news is, if you’re reading this blog post, you’re already doing your research and planning to keep your little one buckled up. The bad news is that many parents don’t realize that choosing and using a car seat has some dangerous pitfalls that can compromise their kids’ safety. So let’s dig into some of the common mistakes when looking for the best car seat for everyday or for travel:

Common Mistake #5: Choosing the wrong car seat.

Parents often think that a big, cushy, foam-and-plastic throne car seat is the safest for their kid. After all, if it looks like a sci-fi escape pod it’s probably safer, right? Actually, whether your car seat is giant or slim, all car seats in the U.S. must pass federal and state safety standards. An overlooked factor in safety isn’t the size of the seat, it’s the size of the kid.

  • Make sure your kid’s height and weight are correct for your car seat  
  • Adjust things like shoulder straps as your kid grows, according to your car seat’s manual. It’s easy as parents to overlook the fact that our kids are growing every day – check often.
  • Don’t fall for inflated car seat weight ranges and forget about height: many manufacturers will say an infant seat can go up to a ridiculous weight limit, even though kids will be too tall for the seat by then. Make sure your kid hasn’t outgrown their seat’s height, even if they are within the weight limit.
  • Check the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) guide to car seat types and sizes here.

Reality: The safest car seat isn’t necessarily the bulkiest, it’s the one that’s the right size for your kid.

Common Mistake #4: Transitioning to the next car seat too soon.

Kids should be in a rear-facing infant or convertible car seat until 2 years old, and should be in a 5-point harness as long as possible. Parents often rush to “promote” their kid to a booster because of a kid’s request to be like their friends, or because a booster is easier to transfer and travel with, but a harness offers better protection. One of the reasons we created the Pico travel car seat was to give families a forward-facing car seat that was light and portable while still using a safer 5-point harness. 

Reality: The safest car seat is a the one that secures your child best, no matter what their friends are doing.

Common Mistake #3: Overlooking toxicity.

Thankfully, your kids will probably not be in a crash (statistically speaking), but the toxins in your car seat might be damaging your kids while keeping them “safe.” Think about a newborn baby that may spend hours sleeping in a car seat that gets transferred from car to house to stroller base. That’s a lot of time being surrounded by materials and chemicals that are really only designed for a split-second traffic accident.

Car seat regulations in the U.S. measure how a car seat does in an accident, but they aren’t regulated for how they might affect sensitive skin and little lungs. While many parents are waking up to the fact that toxic chemicals should be avoided in things like kids’ mattresses and clothing, they may not realize that they lurk in car seats which can expose kids to known carcinogens, hormone disruptors, and developmental toxicants.

Car seats need to perform in a crash by allowing a child to move as little as possible, and by absorbing energy. U.S. regulations also require that car seats show that they are flame resistant. To meet all these standards, and to keep things as cheap as possible, car seat manufacturers typically make their seats out of plastic, line them with energy-absorbing foam, and spray them with a chemical flame retardant. Unfortunately, these materials can pose a health risk to kids. WAYB is developing car seats that feature a strong, ultralight aluminum frame instead of an off-gassing plastic bucket. And aerospace-grade aluminum tubing absorbs energy without relying on bulky, toxic foams.

Reality: The safest car seat is the one that meets safety standards and uses healthier materials.

Common Mistake #2: Improper installation.

Look, if you are on the interwebz and you are researching car seats, you probably have read that as many as 95% of us are installing or using our car seats wrong. Every mistake, like not using a top tether, or leaving straps too loose, compromises a kid’s safety. And 43% of children killed in crashes are improperly restrained.

So why do we keep screwing this up? Sadly, humans are susceptible to this crazy kind of magical thinking that goes “If 5% are doing it right, that’s me!” Sorry to say, that mentality is fine for Powerball because all we lose is a couple bucks, but there’s a lot more at stake here. Yes, read the car’s manual, the car seat’s manual, and watch installation videos. Yes, read up on installation mistakes. But we are not Trinity in the Matrix learning to fly a helicopter, ok? We cannot simply “load” information into our brains and suddenly become complete experts.

 However, there are real and actual experts out there! These caped crusaders are willing to check your car seat installation FOR FREE and you’d be silly not to visit one (Ok, fine, they aren’t wearing capes but they are still heroes in our eyes). Check out the SAFETY section of our FAQ to find a Child Passenger Safety Technician, as well as a list of free events where you can get your seat checked. And if you want to pay a little bit, some techs will even come to your house. (Pro tip: showing up at your local fire station is NOT the way to go about this, so for real, check the list).

Reality: The safest car seat is the one that’s installed correctly.

 Common Mistake #1: Skipping it!

Even parents who are diligent about car seats are sometimes tempted to skip the seat for a short ride, in a taxi / Uber / Lyft, or when traveling with kids. The CDC found that in one year “618,000 children ages 0-12 rode in vehicles without the use of a child safety seat or booster seat or a seat belt at least some of the time.” Yikes! 

Look, we get it, especially when it comes to family travel. It is a pain to lug that bulky, plastic bucket to the airport when traveling with kids. But kids are much safer in the airplane when they are properly restrained, and it’s a must-have when you land and hit the road. Sure, you can get one from your rental car company, but they are notorious for running out or leaving parents to deal with non-working  (sometimes gross) car seats. And we don’t recommend checking your car seat in when you fly; baggage handling can lose or damage your car seat.

The dilemma of the traveling family is why our founders set out to make a travel car seat that’s light, portable, and passes safety tests for plane (FAA) and car (NHTSA). Read more about the WAYB Pico travel car seat here.     

Reality: The safest car seat is the one that you’ll actually use – every time, everywhere.

So to recap - make sure your car seat is correct for your kid's size, don't rush them to the next phase, consider how healthy the seat is, get a pro to install your seat, and don't skip it - not even for a short trip. Whew!