More Than Half of Car Seats Improperly Installed, Study Finds

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), approximately 101,000 children were injured in car crashes in 2020, or more than 278 injuries per day. During National Child Passenger Safety (CPS) Week (Sept. 18-24), AAA and the National Safety Council (NSC) are sharing new research that sheds light on the extent to which parents and caregivers in the U.S. are informed about car seat installation and use.

According to the National Digital Car Seat Check Form (NDCF) database, more than half (56%) of all car seats inspected by Child Passenger Safety Technicians are improperly installed and used. Yet, a general consumer survey revealed only one in five parents and caregivers seek expert help installing a car seat or securing a child in a car seat.

Data from the NDCF database also revealed:

  1. There are three common mistakes. These include:
    • having the car seat installation be too loose
    • failing to use the tether when installing a forward-facing car seat with either the lower anchors or seat belt
    • leaving harness straps too loose when securing a child in a car seat
  2. Children are often transitioned out of the appropriate car seats before it is safe to do so. More than a quarter of children are moved from forward-facing car seats to booster seats too soon, and about 90% of children using lap-and-shoulder seat belts should still be in a forward-facing car seat or booster seat.
  3. Parents and caregivers are less likely to seek car seat inspections as children grow into forward-facing and booster car seats. Child Passenger Safety Technicians inspect about four times the amount of rear-facing car seats than they do forward-facing car seats, and 76% of forward-facing seats are not correctly installed.
  4. If a car seat has one error, parents/caregivers who make an error are more likely to make other errors. These errors can compound each other from a safety perspective. On seats with at least one harness-related error, nearly 80% also have at least one installation-related error as well (tether, seatbelt, and/or lower anchor error).

“Car crashes continue to be a leading cause of death and injury for children between the ages of one and 13,” said Tracy Noble, spokesperson for AAA.  “Parents have the best of intentions when using a car seat but they may be placing their child in harm’s way due to simple installation mistakes, without being aware of it. Anyone using a child safety seat in their vehicle should educate themselves, even if they’ve been using one for years, to make sure it’s installed correctly,” she added.

There are many car seat choices on the market.  For more information and guidance, parents should visit to help them choose the type of car seat that best meets the child’s needs.

“Using car seats that are age- and size-appropriate is the best way to keep your children safe. Car seats, booster seats, and seat belts can make all the difference,” Noble said.

Click here to read about Child Passenger Safety law requirements by state


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