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So you've mastered diapering and figured out your baby's feeding routine. But there's another piece of new-parent knowledge to master — one that could save your baby's life.

Vehicle injuries are a leading cause of death to infants, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And an awareness gap could mean your child isn't as safe as you think.

Although 96 percent of parents and caregivers think their baby's seat is correctly installed, the Chrysler Group reports that seven out of 10 children are improperly restrained.

When properly installed and used, a car seat is your child's best defense against injury or death from a car crash. Car seat use reduces the risk of death by 71 percent for infants under one year, and 54 percent for toddlers ages one to four.

Follow these tips to help ensure your little one is road ready.

Buyer beware

While you can't put a price on your child's safety, you can put a price on an infant car seat: expect to shell out at least $120 to get your baby properly buckled up. Parents looking to save may search for a used seat, or snag a seat handed down by a friend or relative. Buying a used seat carries risks, though. For example, a seat isn't safe to use after a crash, because the materials that cushion the child inside are less effective after being compressed by the impact of a collision. Only use a hand-me-down seat if you're sure it hasn't been in an accident, and you can clearly read the model number and manufacture date so you can check that the seat hasn't been recalled, and is less than six years old (the expiry date for most car seats).

Hot air

Air bags can help keep you safe in a crash, but they can be fatal to your baby; in a collision, an air bag can wrench a rear-facing seat backward, rendering the seat less effective. They're harmful to forward-facing seats, too. The safest spot for your infant's seat? The rear of the vehicle, away from any front air bags that could deploy in a collision. If you must ride in a car with only one row of seats, deactivate the air bag first. For many vehicles, the safest position for a car seat is the center of the rear row of seats, away from doors and side-impact airbags.

Rear gear

A top car seat mistake is switching your child's seat forward-facing too soon. While many parents and caregivers switch to forward-facing after a child's first birthday, the American Academy of Pediatrics now recommends rear-facing until at least two years of age, because doing so can reduce the risk of vehicle-related death or serious injury by 75 percent.

If you're unsure how to install your new seat, you'd like a pro to check your installation, or you have car seat questions, contact your local hospital or fire department about informational sessions and professional car-seat checks. Too busy to attend a session, or need help pronto? Visit cert.safekids.org to locate a certified CSPT (child passenger safety technician) in your area. A technician may offer private consultations—think of it as a home visit on wheels that helps make sure you buckle your bundle in safely, every time. Visit safekidswi.org for a list of car seat check events. ■

Malia Jacobson is an award-winning health and parenting journalist and mom of three.

 

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