Two years ago, I joined up with #CarseatFullstop. I was inspired by Mandy’s passion for the project and wanted to help save a kid’s life. I figured that parents just didn’t know better. You know, like I obviously already did.
Harley always rode in a car seat. ALWAYS. But part of being in this campaign means that I’ve learned even more. I thought that I was always doing everything needed to keep Harley safe, but I was actually wrong. I’ve done a number of things that could have been catastrophic. I’m not telling you this as some form of guilty self-flagellation, but to hopefully help you to not make the same mistakes that I have.
1 – Twisted Straps
Most of the time, I’d grab her straps from the top, clip them together and there wouldn’t be any twists. But sometimes, I was in a rush, or Harley was super wriggly, and the straps were twisted.
This was more dangerous than you might think because of how the straps work in the first place. Each nice, wide harness strap distributes the force of a crash across the body of your little one. This is also why most of the best car seats even have shoulder padding and extra groin padding – it makes the ride comfier, but also distributes the force even more in the event of a crash.
Twisted straps change that distribution. They can lead to bad injuries or cuts, bone breaks, and even harness failure, depending on how many twists and where they happen to land on the kid. It really doesn’t take too long with a good quality car seat to check for twisted straps, but it can make a world of difference.
2 – Loose Straps
Kids grow at weird paces. One minute, you wonder if they are even growing, and the next they’ve grown out of two pairs of shoes in a week.
Harley was growing a lot and I didn’t want her to be uncomfortable in her seat. It was so hard to clip her in, I figured that she could use a bit more room. But in fact, they were too loose.
This is dangerous because, well, really they can just slip out. We all know how kids can wriggle, how they seem to slip through arms or tight spaces. The same could be true in a collision. You shouldn’t be able to get more than two fingers between the harness and your little one’s collarbone. And you most certainly shouldn’t be able to bunch or gather the harness. If there’s that much slack, your kid could still go flying.
3 – Bulky Clothes
Linked to the one above, clothes can actually leave more space in the straps or make you loosen things up a bit. The example usually given is those puffy winter jackets. I never put Harley in one of those, so I figured I was fine. But even those adorable chunky hoodies could impact the effectiveness of the car seat.
The reality is that extra layers, blankets or those adorable funky hoodies I loved to put her in as a baby would get compressed with the force of an accident. As Harley’s body would push into the harness straps, the clothing would get compressed. Just think about the indentations a coffee table can leave on carpeting, and this is way, WAY more.
By compressing the clothing or blankets, it would open up enough slack that the harness could be loose, not contain Harley and lead to disaster. So now, I try to always make sure that Harley is only wearing her usual clothes for a car ride. If she’s chilly and insists on wearing a jacket in the car, I will rearrange where it is so that I can still clip her straps in as usual, without any loosening.
4 – Speeding, just a bit
We’ve all heard those cheese expressions, right? How it’s a speed limit, not a target. Please tell me that you also roll your eyes at that!
But I find myself speeding sometimes. Not excessively. Not enough to be pulled over or get a ticket. But on a familiar road that I’ve driven a million times, of course I get confident to drive that 5-8 miles over the limit.
The thing is, those few extra miles of speed won’t really change my ride time. There are people who have actually crunched the numbers on it, and unless you’re making a journey of 500 miles (800km) or more, an extra 10mph (16km/h) will really only save you an average of 5 minutes.
But in the event of an accident, that extra bit of speed doesn’t just slightly increase the severity of an accident, but doubles it! Plus, you have a higher chance of getting into an accident in the first place. For every 1% increase in speed, so going even 3-5 miles or km over the limit, a driver’s chance of an accident increases by 2%, with the chance of serious injury increasing by 3%. Going that 10 mph faster than everyone around you? That’s way worse! It increases your chances of a crash by 31%, a crash with an injury by 49%, and a fatality by 71%.
5 – Being distracted
I don’t text and drive, except to send a voice note. I have a handsfree setup in my car, so I can take calls or find a podcast or audiobook without taking my eyes off the road.
But I’ve also reached back to give Harley her snacks while driving. I’ve fumbled to find her dropped drink when we stop at a red light. I’ve unplugged and replugged my phone to fight with the car’s computer, or rummaged through my bag to make sure I got my card back from the quick coffee run.
These weren’t extended distractions, but they did mean that I not only literally took my eyes off the road but also figuratively did by splitting my focus. According to research, driving at 55 mph (88 km/h), being distracted for 4 seconds is the equivalent to driving a football field’s length while blindfolded.
In fact, texting while driving is considered six times more dangerous than driving drunk. I would NEVER drive drunk, especially with my kid in the car. But just look at all the other ways I’ve been distracted while driving!
No one is perfect. I’m definitely not, but I’m also sure that some of you might have made some of these mistakes, too. We can’t beat ourselves up about this or even swear we never will again. But maybe the next time we see our speed peeking over the limit, we should ease off the gas. Or maybe the next time that stupid handsfree set-up acts up, we’ll fight with it before getting on the road.
There is no way to eradicate all risk on the road. All that we can do is strive to do our best. Drive responsibly, clip our kids into car seats and all that other good stuff. I’m trying to be more focused, to be more aware of my speed, and to always make sure that I’m using the car seat 100% correctly.
You can do the same. And if you really feel like doing your part, you can even share this article or other #CarseatFullstop posts that resonate with you. Not for my sake, or your kid’s sake. But because maybe there’s someone on your timeline who always drives that little bit over the speed limit and never thinks anything of it. Or maybe you have a relative who thinks the car seat will do all the work, even if the kid is wearing a puffy jacket or the straps aren’t tight enough.
You never know if your share of an article could be the one to save a life. So, if you thought this post was interesting, please share it and help #CarseatFullstop save more lives.