Top 10 Mistakes



1) Many parents don’t ensure a proper recline angle for infants.

  • Until a child is able to hold his/her head up, recline should be at about 45 degrees from vertical. If the head falls forward, the child’s airway can be blocked.
  • As the child grows, seat can be more upright, to as much as 30 degrees.
  • If more recline is needed, add a rolled-up towel or blanket under the front of the seat.

2) Many parents face infants forward before 12 months old and 20 lbs.

  • Infants have weak necks and large heads compared to the rest of their body. The majority of fatality crashes are front-end/head-on and in such a crash the baby’s head is thrown toward the point of impact. As a result, forward-facing infants are at far greater risk of fatality/serious injury than are rear-facing infants.
  • Even if the car seat instructions warn against the legs touching the back of the seat, it is more important to protect the neck and spinal cord
  • Keep infants rear-facing until at least 12 months and 20 lbs., preferably longer, for as long as the seat allows.

3) Many parents don’t use locking clips when required, or misuse the locking clip.

  • That’s the little silver “I” shaped buckle that comes with every car seat. Most people don’t know what they are or how to use them, but instructions come with every car seat.
  • Using a locking clip can make a critical difference in a serious crash. They allow for less slack in the seat belt, keeping the child safety seat in position during the pre-crash phase.
  • It should be placed within one inch of the buckle.
  • Not sure if you need to use one? Check your car owner’s manual and/or the labels on your seat belt.

4) Many parents STILL don’t put children in the back seat.

  • Air bags have saved thousands of adult lives, but they are not safe for children. More than 100 children have been killed nationwide by air bags — at least three in Oklahoma. Of those 100, the vast majority were either unrestrained or improperly restrained.
  • Either place all children under age 13 in the back seat, or have a shut-off switch installed if you absolutely MUST transport children in the front (carpools, etc.).
  • Even without air bags, the back seat is 26 percent safer than the front seat.

5) Many parents don’t put the harness straps in the right slots, don’t have them tight, and don’t use the retainer clip properly.

  • Harness straps should be at or below shoulder level for rear-facing seats, and in the upper slots for forward-facing convertible seats, unless otherwise specified by the instruction. Straps in forward-facing booster seats should be at or above shoulder level.
  • Harness straps should be snug enough so that only one finger can be placed between the strap and the child’s collarbone.
  • The retainer clip (the plastic piece that holds the shoulder straps together) goes at armpit level. Children have been ejected in crashes in which the clip was placed too low.

6) Many parents don’t buckle the child safety seat into the car, or don’t buckle them in tightly enough.

  • When properly secured, a child seat should not move more than one inch from side to side when pulled at the seat belt path with moderate force. It is impossible to eliminate all movement at the top of the seat, especially a rear-facing seat.

7) Some parents don’t use a child safety seat that is compatible with their specific car.

  • Many are not compatible. Unfortunately, it’s trial and error. When parents ask “What kind of car seat should I buy?” the answer is: “The one they can return it if it’s not compatible with their car.”
  • ‘LATCH’ was supposed to eliminate incompatibility issues; it has not. And, LATCH (Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children) is not inherently better than using a seat belt. In addition, parents should use either LATCH or the seat belt – not both. The tether strap is required with LATCH; it is optional with a seat belt.

8) Most parents don’t leave children in the appropriate seat long enough.

  • Far too many young children are being placed in seat belts, and seat belts are not made for them. The shoulder belt crosses their neck and the lap belt rides high on the abdomen. Both can have serious consequences in a crash.
  • Children should stay in a harness-type seat until at least 40 lbs., a booster seat until somewhere around 4’9” tall or about age 8.
  • Another common mistake is taking a toddler out of a convertible seat too soon, to free the seat for a new baby.
  • Oklahoma law now requires children to be in a child safety seat until they turn 6, although this new law still falls short of “best practice.”

9) Many parents are using a recalled or unsafe seat.

  • Manufacturers will replace or repair seats for free that have been recalled, but they have to be able to locate the owner. Fill out the owner’s registration card when you buy a new child seat.
  • A current recall list can be found on the NHTSA website at or
  • Don’t use a seat that was obtained at a garage sale or thrift shop. It may be missing critical parts or may have been involved in a crash. After any crash (except for fender benders), insurance companies should be asked to replace the child seat as well as repair any seat belts that have been damaged.

10) Many parents who usually use car seats don’t use them EVERY time.

  • Most crashes happen close to home at speeds under 45 mph. Still, some families only buckle up on long trips or on the highway. At least 20 percent of Oklahoma children are still not buckled up at all – don’t let yours be one of them.

For technical assistance or information on obtaining free or discounted child safety seats, contact the Oklahoma SAFE KIDS Coalition, (405) 271-5695, or by e-mail: [email protected]