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Most Parents Fail to Attach Child Safety Seat Tether Straps

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Parents are improving in their use of child car safety seats. According to a September 15, 2017 press release from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), more parents are putting their infants and toddlers in the proper child safety seats. Rates of correct seat placement increased from 84 percent in 2009 to 91 percent in 2015.

But apparently, parents are not doing so well when it comes to attaching the tether straps, those straps that help prevent the seat from tipping over. According to a recent study by the non-profit group Safe Kids Worldwide, the majority of parents (64 percent) were not using the tether on their forward-facing seats, which could increase the risk of serious injury in an automobile crash.

Securing the Tether Strap Reduces Risk of Head and Neck Injuries

The tether on a child seat is that strap with a hook that hangs out the back of the top of the seat. Also called the “top strap”, it’s a long piece of seat belt material that has a clip on the end of it. When a child is old enough to be turned facing front (generally 2 years or older, depending on a child’s weight and height), the tether is meant to be attached to the vehicle tether anchor. (Since 2000, tethers have been required in vehicles.) This secures the car seat to keep it from moving forward in a collision.

Parents should attach and tighten the tether whenever using a forward-facing child safety seat. If they fail to do so, the seat remains attached only at the bottom, which means that it may tilt forward in a crash, which can cause the child’s head to hit the back of the front seat or even the console. Possible injuries include head and neck injuries that can be so severe that they cause permanent disability or even death.

A tether can also reduce the risk of arm and leg injuries, as the child is kept far enough back that the limbs don’t impact the front seat.

Safe Kids Urges Parents to Make Sure Seats are Tightly Secured

Since there is no standard for tether anchor placement in vehicles, parents will have to locate them. They may be installed in the ceiling, on the back hatch, on the back of the back seat, behind the headrest, on the cargo floor area, or on the rear filler panel. Usually, they look like a loop-shaped piece of metal that accommodates the tether clip. Parents can consult the vehicle owner’s manual for assistance. If you live in the Greater Pittsburgh area, child car seat inspections are available at various locations.

In a press release related to the study, Safe Kids noted that more than “2,600 children under the age of 13 are involved in a car crash daily.” Together with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), they offer a car seat guide for parents wanting help figuring out what car seat is best, and how to install it correctly.

In addition to the low use of tether straps, the study found that parents also commonly fail to be sure the car seat and the harness are tightly secured—many are too loose.

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