Keep Them Safe – Carseat Safety (Part 1)

As a former Paramedic, I know all to well how lives can be changed in a matter of seconds by a car accident, and the devastation it can bring. I’m not going to go into details of some of the things I have witnessed, but I will say that years later there are accidents, moments, and faces that will haunt me for the rest of my life.

The moment I found out I was pregnant with my first child, I started to panic like all new mothers do. How am I going to keep this baby safe with all the horrors in the world? One of my main focuses after seeing what I had seen during my career were to implement safety features in my house, like gates at the top of the stairs to prevent falls, a governor on the hot water to prevent accidental life altering burns and to research carseat safety. These were the top three most preventable injuries that I had seen that had forever scarred my heart. The gates and governor were easy, but what I didn’t know was how much information out there there was on carseat safety, how much of it was wrong and how often times, our actual state laws did not accurately reflect what was safest for my child.

I didn’t know that although many police stations and fire departments will “install” your baby seat, most of these people were not actual certified car seat installers. I had no idea that there were pediatricians giving parents advice on when to turn their baby around in the car or what seat to use based on old and outdated information. It seemed like everyone had some advice to give, but none of it matched. Little by little, I researched and while we found someone certified to teach my husband how to install the seat (A certified technician will never install a seat for you but show you how to do it) I had no idea there were so many other details that I didn’t know about, like strap tightening, chest clip adjustment, no coats and more.

So here I am, with about 6 years of research, a heart that carries tragedy of stories I’ve seen and a mission to help Women “Celebrate the Courageous Journey of Motherhood” I’m here to share what I’ve learned in the hopes that this helps at least one person out there prevent heartache in the future. There is a lot of information here so I will be dividing it into two topics for now!

Children should be rear facing until a MINIMUM of two years of age; four is ideal.

To understand this recommendation we need to know a little bit about anatomy. A child’s vertebrae are connected via cartilage, rather than ossified (hard) bone. Those connections are called synchondroses, which slowly close over time. Findings show that before age two, none of the cartilaginous spaces have completed ossification. Those pieces of cartilage have the ability to stretch up to two inches. Yet only 1/4″ stretch is enough to rupture the spinal column, resulting in paralysis or death.

According to NHTSA, roughly 60% of vehicle crashes are frontal impacts and 20% are side impacts. During a crash, occupants will travel towards the point of impact, putting all the stress on the neck and spine. At that moment, there are actually three impacts: the vehicle striking whatever it strikes, the body of the occupant being retained by the seat belt or harness, and then the internal organs striking the front of the inside of the body. When someone is rear facing, crashes two and three occur in concert and the forces of the crash are more equally diffused along the shell of the seat, holding the neck and spine in line.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends rear facing until a minimum of age two, based on findings published by BMJ Injury Prevention. This study compared injury statistics for 15 years worth of crashes involving children under age 2. Researchers compared the injuries sustained by the children in crashes and found “the odds of severe injury for forward-facing infants under 12 months of age were 1.79 times higher than for rear-facing infants; for children 12 to 23 months old, the odds were 5.32 times higher.”

So why is the recommendation to rear face only to two years of age? As of right now, the only data with hard numbers comparing injury when rear versus forward facing are centered around that age group. However, age two is truly a bare minimum. When looking at the anatomy of a child at age three there is still only a 50% probability that the C3 vertebra has finished ossification. The older a child gets, the more time their spinal column has to strengthen, and the reality is the longer, the better. Most car seats on the market today will easily rear face even above average height and weight kids until 3-4 years of age.

Now that you you have that baby rear facing lets look at some common mistakes!

Is your carseat installed tight enough?

Keep Them Safe - Carseat Safety by Maria FullerA common error that parents make when checking to see if their car seat is tight enough is checking for movement at the wrong place. A car seat should be installed so that there is less than 1″ of movement side to side or front to back, testing with the force of a firm handshake at the belt path. The belt path is where the seat belt or LATCH strap runs through the car seat, illustrated with red arrows in the photo above. Especially with a rear facing seat, it’s common for there to be movement at the front of the car seat. That’s ok, as long as the seat is secure at the belt path.

Chest clip placement

Keep Them Safe - Carseat Safety by Maria Fuller

If your carseat has a chest clip (not all countries use them, that’s ok) the chest clip is suppose to be placed in the middle of the sternum and is designed to keep the straps parallel over the torso in a crash. Too low and your child could be ejected from the seat in a crash; too high and the child could suffer a neck injury. Line it up with the top of the child’s armpits, and it’ll be just right every time!

Pinch Test

Keep Them Safe - Carseat Safety by Maria Fuller
To know if your car seat’s harness is tight enough, it must pass the pinch test. Try to pinch the webbing at the child’s collarbone as shown. If you can grasp any material and pinch it, it’s too loose. Your fingers should slide right off the webbing when it is tight enough.

Use that tether!

Keep Them Safe - Carseat Safety by Maria Fuller

A tether decreases how far a child’s head will move forward during a crash by as much as 8 inches (Consumer Reports, 1998) The tether also reduces the amount of acceleration and how much force is applied to the neck during a crash

Let’s review:

Four steps to carseat safety

Keep Them Safe - Carseat Safety by Maria Fuller

Rear Facing
Rear face to a minimum of age 2, ideally age 4.
• Position harness straps at or below child’s shoulders.
• Position chest clip at armpit level
• Seat is installed at the correct angle
• If using an infant seat, ensure handle is locked in a travel position per the manual.
• Child is within the weight and height limits and has 1″ (unless otherwise specified) of shell above their head.
• Rear face to the limits! Don’t worry about the child’s legs, they are safe and comfortable with legs crossed, propped up, or hanging to the side.

Stay tuned for part 2 in which we discuss forward facing, harness vs. booster and a few extras!

To find a certified technician in your area to help you with installation please see:

In the USA


Images and some information gathered from

Maria Fuller

I’m a former critical care paramedic with a concentration in Emergency and Disaster Management, an injury on the job led me to retire from that and manage the disaster that is my home these days, I’m lucky I had good training!

I believe in Love at first sight- I met my husband on his 18th birthday and the rest is history

I’m passionate about a women’s right to birth without fear or pressure whether that is at home or in a hospital, I’ve done it in both places.

I have two beautiful girls, Alexa and Arya, 5.5 years apart. I believe each of my daughters was sent to me to remind me of a piece of myself I have lost along the way, it has been exciting journey to rekindle those parts of “ME” again.

We live on a little River in Southbury, CT with our Rotti Beagle mix, a Crazy 1 year old German Shephard and a fat cat that won’t leave the basement, he might be to fat to climb the stairs.

I love a good margarita on the rocks with Salt but ONLY if my husband makes it with hand squeezed lemons, limes and homemade simple syrup, any other margarita sucks.

I listen to “pitbull” in the car with my daughters, they have no idea who Raffi is but Alexa knows most of the words to “Calle Ocho”

I’m the girl who will love you fiercely but is not afraid to “tell you like it is”, if I do, it means I actually care about you!

I love my girls but there are many days I don’t like them or want to be around them. Yep, I just said that, its normal for you to feel that too!

I believe that mothers a given a handbook when their baby is born, its called “intuition” and it will never lead her astray.

I am a photographer who helps women “Celebrate the Courageous journey of motherhood”

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