A small, seemingly inconsequential error installing a child car seat could have life-altering impacts.

Yet when it comes to putting child seats into cars, mistakes happen with frightening regularity, according to a National Highway Traffic Safety Administration report that found 46% of all car seats are misused.

In the event of an accident, an incorrectly used car seat can increase the risk of injury for young children, said Texas Department of Transportation traffic funding specialist Monica Yates.

The most common mistake Yates sees happens when those installing car seats fail to strap the harness correctly. The error can pose different risks depending on whether it’s a front-facing or rear-facing car seat, she said.

“If the harness is incorrectly attached for a front-facing car seat, it prevents the child from moving their shoulders and can lead to serious injury,” Yates said. “If the harness is messed up on a rear-facing one, the child can slip out, and at that point they could become basically a loose object in the vehicle, as bad as it sounds.”

Another mistake Yates sees a lot is parents switching from a rear-facing to a front-facing car seat too early.

Many parents, she said, move their children into front-facing car seats when the child is just a couple years old. However, Yates said, parents should keep their children in rear-facing car seats as long as possible, until the child becomes too heavy for such seats. That’s because the risk of head, neck or spinal injuries increases in front-facing seats, she said.

Sixty-two children younger than 8 years old died in traffic crashes in Texas last year, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration; 16 were unrestrained at the time of the crash. Among children ages 8 to 12, 56 died in traffic crashes that same year; 21 were unrestrained at the time of the crash.

TxDOT offers free safety seat inspections throughout the year, where parents can stop at the department’s regional office and see if seats are strapped in correctly and receive help strapping it in. The process typically takes about 30 minutes.

To schedule a time, call Yates at 903-737-9292 or visit savemewithaseat.org.

TxDOT also offers free car seats to low-income families. To qualify, families just need to show proof of Medicaid, WIC, CHIP or another low-income program.

“We want people to have access to car seats, and we want them using those car seats correctly,” Yates said. “We’re here to help people.”

Tommy Culkin is a staff writer for The Paris News. He can be reached at 903-785-6972 or at tommy.culkin@theparisnews.com.

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