GREENFIELD, Ind. — As you map out your holiday travel plans, you may be hitting the road with your little one or doing so for the first time.

With more people expected out on the roads and driving longer distances for the holidays, experts at Hancock Health say it’s the perfect time to refresh on car seat do’s and don’ts. According to the CDC, nearly 50% of families are using car seats or booster seats incorrectly.

For starters, Leah Reynolds, who coordinates Hancock Health’s Car Seat Program, says it’s important for families to check the chest strap in their child’s car seat. It should be at your child’s nipple or armpit level.

When it comes to shoulder straps, Reynolds says it should be tight enough to where you’re unable to pinch up extra fabric on the strap itself. It should also be loose enough to where you can still fit one or two fingers underneath it.

Lastly, once the seat is installed, check the base to make sure it’s secure.

“We check it at the belt path, where the seat belt is in, and we don’t want it to move more than an inch,” Reynolds said. “We don’t need it to be in there so tight that you need a crowbar to get it out, a little bit of movement is okay, as long as it’s not more than an inch.”

With colder months on the way, Reynolds suggests dressing kids in layers, hats and/or utilizing blankets while they’re in a car seat. Though it’s tempting to do, she says strapping kids in while wearing a bulky or puffy coat is one of the most common mistakes.

“That fabric can compress if you were to be in a wreck, making those straps not as tight as you thought that they were when you first put the baby in the car seat,” Reynolds said.

Reynolds says another common mistake is transitioning your child too early from a booster seat to actually sitting in a vehicle on their own. Though state law has its guidance, Reynolds says every child is different and may not be ready to transition at the state’s recommendation.

“The law says that any child under 8 needs to be in a restraint system of some sort, that’s typically a booster seat at that point,” she said, “After that it is optional; but a lot of kids, who are 8, are not ready to come out of that seat yet.”

Reynolds recommends families follow the “5 Step Test” to determine if their child is ready to transition, which includes the child being able to:

  • Sit with their back and bottom all the way back against the seat
  • Knees comfortably hanging over the seat’s edge
  • Seat belt strap coming across the space between the child’s neck & shoulder, not against the neck
  • Strap riding at the top of the child’s hips/thigh bone, not across the stomach
  • Comfortably sit in the above positions for the entire duration of the ride

“If you are traveling for longer than a few minutes, and that kiddo is wiggling and moving the seatbelt, and laying down in the backseat, they’re just not ready yet,” Reynolds said.

If you need help getting a car seat or booster seat, learning about proper use or wanting to learn more about appropriate transition phases, Hancock Health offers free services. You do not have to live in Greenfield or Hancock County to utilize these resources. You can access what’s available by clicking the link.