Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Car Seat Rule #1: How To Use That Chest Clip

In my car seat posts, I tend to lump all the car seat rules I can think of all in a big list, which I think maybe doesn't have much impact anymore. It becomes white noise. So what I thought I'd do is do an every-so-often series of posts about various individual aspects of proper car seat use and go into more detail about why that particular rule applies.

This first post addresses the infamous chest clip! What is that thing for, and how should it be used?

The chest clip is found on most rear- and forward-facing car seats with a five-point harness. You have the shoulder straps, which come over the shoulders, and the crotch strap, which comes up between the legs. The shoulder straps have tabs which fit into the buckle on the crotch strap. Then there's another plastic clip that connects the two shoulder straps. That is the chest clip, and of all the things I see people do wrong with car seats, misuse of the chest clip is just about at the top of the list. Even people who are very safety-conscious, keep their kids rear-facing longer, in a harness longer, in the best seats, often incorrectly place or use the chest clip.

The most egregious chest clip misuse I've personally heard of is parents who think using only the chest clip is sufficient. They have their preschoolers in a five-point harness, except that they don't. They secure the chest clip but leave the tabs out of the buckle. This does nothing to secure the child in an accident, and is actually less safe than putting the child in a booster and buckling the seat belt. Using the chest clip alone is basically as good as not buckling the child at all.

Here's why:
This thread from car-seat.org, answered by certified car seat technicians, explains that the chest clip is not meant to restrain the child in a crash. Indeed, it is often designed to break away in a crash. Thus, if you buckle your child with only the chest clip, and the chest clips breaks upon impact in a crash, your child will be ejected from his seat. Why bother having a car seat at all?

Chest clips are actually meant to be pre-crash positioners, ensuring that the shoulder straps are in the right place so they can do their job in a crash. If the chest clip is in the wrong place, it won't do its job of keeping the shoulder straps in place, and the straps could slip off the child's shoulders in a crash. Also, since it is designed to crack against the child's sternum, which is a very strong bone, if it is in the wrong place, it could cause damage to the child's soft tissue.

In Europe, chest clips are not used, but car seats are designed differently to accommodate this difference. If your car seat has a chest clip, you must use it, and you must use it properly.

So... how do I use the chest clip?

Well, it's simple. Buckle your child in, fasten the chest clip, tighten the harness if necessary, and then position the chest clip at the level of the child's armpits or nipples. From tiny babies to big seven-year-olds, rear-facing or front-facing, the chest clip always goes at the level of the armpits or nipples. Not higher (can damage the child's windpipe), and not lower (doesn't do its job).

What do I do if my child moves the chest clip?

Discipline and education, mostly. Use whatever works for your child. My kids respond well to safety lectures. "It's very dangerous if you move that chest clip. I put it where it was for a reason!" Other kids need reinforcement along the lines of punishment or rewards. Consistency is key, of course, as with any discipline issue.

Summary:

Again, the chest clip should be fastened and positioned in line with the child's armpits. This properly positions the shoulder straps and helps prevent the child from slipping his arms out of the straps. It is not meant to withstand crash forces and should not be used without the buckle!

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