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Five Common Mistakes Most Parents Make Using Car Seats

Car seat safety

Thirty-two years ago, my first daughter, Jennifer, was born. When it was time to leave the hospital, she was placed lovingly in the back seat of our car, resting comfortably in a very nice but hardly secure Moses basket.

That's right. Just a basket resting on the back seat.

I didn't put Jenny in a Moses basket because I didn't have the resources for a car seat. Like every new parent, I would have done anything to protect my baby. I just didn't know any better.

Luckily, things have changed in the last 30 years. Today, four million babies are born in the United States each year, and 99 percent of infants leave the hospital in a car seat. But while we have made great strides in child passenger safety, unfortunately, 73 percent of car seats are still not being used correctly.

To find out why, Safe Kids analyzed data from more than 100,000 car seat inspections done by certified technicians conducted through its Buckle Up Program, a national initiative established 15 years ago by Safe Kids and supported by the General Motors Foundation. Over the last 15 years, Safe Kids certified technicians have inspected 1.5 million car seats at more than 80,000 community events across the country. And more than 550,000 car seats have been provided to at-risk families.

Our data revealed that parents and caregivers are making five critical, but fixable, mistakes when using car seats. This news is important because we know that correctly used child safety seats can reduce the risk of death by as much as 71 percent.

Today is the start of Child Passenger Safety Week. In a nationwide effort to educate parents about the importance of car seat safety, we are asking every parent to take 15 minutes for an at-home car seat checkup using the Safe Kids downloadable checklist.

The checkup provides the following important tips that will help parents, grandparents and caregivers begin to ensure that their car seat is used and installed properly:

  • Right Seat. Check the label on your car seat to make sure it's appropriate for your child's age, weight and height. Like milk, your car seat has an expiration date. Just double check the label on your car seat to make sure it is still safe.
  • Right Place. Kids are VIPs, just ask them. We know all VIPs ride in the back seat, so keep all children in the back seat until they are big enough to ride without a booster seat.
  • Right Direction. You want to keep your child in a rear-facing car seat for as long as possible, usually until around age 2. When he or she outgrows the seat, move your child to a forward-facing car seat. Make sure to attach the top tether after you tighten and lock the seat belt or lower anchors.
  • Inch Test. Once your car seat is installed, give it a good shake at the base where the seat belt fits. Can you move it more than an inch side to side or front to back? A properly installed seat will not move more than an inch.
  • Pinch Test. Make sure the harness is tightly buckled and coming from the correct slots (check car seat manual). Now, with the chest clip placed at armpit level, pinch the strap at your child's shoulder. If you are unable to pinch any excess webbing, you're good to go.

And while we are all busy with too many demands on our time, it's important to read the vehicle and car seat instruction manuals to help with the checklist. If you are having even the slightest trouble, questions or concerns, help is a call or click away. Certified child passenger safety technicians are able to help or even double check your work. Safe Kids is hosting more than 500 car seat inspection events across the country throughout September and thousands more throughout the year. I encourage every parent with a child under 10 to attend one.

There is nothing more important than the safety of our children. I think back now to when Jenny was riding around in that Moses basket and I'm grateful because if we had gotten even the slightest nudge from another vehicle, let alone been in a serious crash, I can't even think about what would have happened. It would have changed my life forever. I don't want that to happen to any parent.

Engineers are working hard to ensure cars and car seats are designed to keep kids as safe as possible. But it's up to every parent to take full advantage of these innovations by making sure car seats are used and installed correctly. A quick at-home checkup or a visit to a car seat inspection event in your area could be the first step to saving a life.

To download a Safe Kids Car Seat Checklist or to find a car seat inspection event in your area, please visit safekids.org. And if you need a little more inspiration, please check out our latest video, Car Seats: A Child's Perspective.

This article originally appeared on The Huff Post Parents.