Car Seat Safety Part 2: Expiration, Laws, Travel & More

Car Seat Safety Part 1 addressed some of the basics when it comes to car seats. This post may cover some lesser-known information, some of which I did not learn until I had my fourth baby!

Infants and babies should be rear-facing for at least two years. Recommendations and laws vary per area but the research is crystal clear that rear-facing until age 2 is safer:

Current Florida law allows babies to begin forward-facing at age one and twenty pounds. But just because it’s legal, doesn’t mean it’s best… After all, Florida is one of only two states lacking booster seat laws, along with South Dakota. (Florida is, however, one of only 5 states that require seat belts on school buses. So we do a few things right.)

Did you know you should never wash the straps of the car seat? I didn’t either, but fortunately I was never guilty of doing that anyway (ahem). This changes the structure of the fibers in the straps and compromises safety. Spot clean with a damp cloth, but don’t disassemble the thing to throw it all in the washing machine.

After-market items are not safe. This refers to items such as strap covers, head bumpers etc. Even if they’re cute. If it did not come with the seat you purchased, it should not be used with your baby in the car seat. The package may say it has been tested but it has not been tested together with your car seat. In order to sell a product for use with a child safety seat—but one that does not come with the seat—there are NO standards or crash tests required!

Did you know car seats expire? Not only do they become trash in the event of a collision – whether there is visible damage to them or not – but most expire after 5 or 6 years. The expiration date will be listed on the sides or bottom. Just like with helmets and other safety equipment, the plastic and other parts deteriorate over time, especially when exposed to prolonged periods of great heat or cold, and therefore become unreliable.

I’m all about saving money, but do not buy used car seats from garage sales or people you don’t know who may not tell you the complete history of the product. If it has been in an accident, or stored in a hot attic, or exposed to very cold temperatures, or is past its expiration date, or has a part missing, then the structure and integrity of the product is compromised, and that means your baby’s safety is compromised. Don’t take the risk.

Do you know how to properly dispose of a damaged or expired car seat? Cut the straps to make it unusable. Remove the cover and destroy or discard it separately from the seat. Some people like to take a hammer, ax or saw to it too, just for good measure. If you can’t do that, use thick black permanent marker to write warnings such as damaged, expired, dangerous, unsafe, recycle and so forth on it. Place in dark trash bag so it is not visible on trash day.

Remember that car seats are designed to be used… in a car! Not on countertops, not on beds, and certainly not balanced on shopping carts…

(This is a great opportunity to wear your baby instead!)

Florida is a proper use state. Florida Statute §316.613 is the Florida Child Safety Seat Law and it has specific requirements regarding the proper use of child restraints and seat-belts.

316.613 Child restraint requirements.—

(1)(a) Every operator of a motor vehicle as defined herein, while transporting a child in a motor vehicle operated on the roadways, streets, or highways of this state, shall, if the child is 5 years of age or younger, provide for protection of the child by properly using a crash-tested, federally approved child restraint device. For children aged through 3 years, such restraint device must be a separate carrier or a vehicle manufacturer’s integrated child seat. For children aged 4 through 5 years, a separate carrier, an integrated child seat, or a seat belt may be used.

This may mean that you may be held liable if your child is injured in a crash and you did not properly use your car safety seat. If it has expired, or is missing parts, or is not positioned correctly in the vehicle, that does not constitute proper use.

Violation of Florida’s Child Restraint Law carries a fine of $60 and 3 points on your driving record. Instead of the fine and points, a driver who violates Florida’s child seat law may, with the Judge’s approval, participate in a child restraint safety program. After successful completion of the program, the points and costs may be waived at the Judge’s discretion.

Traveling? If you’re flying, don’t check your car seat. Bring it on the plane with you or gate check it. Have you seen those videos of how your luggage gets treated when you’re not looking? You know, the way it gets thrown around onto conveyor belts, dropped, hurled into the bowels of the plane, and so on? This is not good news for a car seat.

If you’re renting a car, you could rent a car seat but you don’t know if that car seat will fit your child, if it is expired, if it has an accident history, is missing parts or is broken in some way. Also, you may not even get a car seat, even if you’ve confirmed the rental several times. (This happened to us in Colorado once when we landed at the airport late one night. No car seats available from any car rental place at the airport until the following morning. We were forced to drive to our hotel with baby in the back seat, no car seat. Scary! The rental place delivered a car seat to our hotel the next morning but we were unhappy customers to say the least.) If you can, it is better to buy one just for travel. Options like the Cosco Scenera Convertible work well, are lightweight and cheap… around $39 or so. And they often come with a plastic bag to cover it. Try it out first – some car seats need a pool noodle or rolled towel to get a good fit in most cars so cut a noodle to fit the width of the base and put that in the bag with the seat. Safe travels!

Be sure to stay tuned for Part 3 – it’s a fun one!
A car seat trip down memory lane….


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