A photo that Kim Kardashian posted to Instagram on Monday shows North West, left, adorably exhausted after a busy day at a local pumpkin patch. She’s accompanied by a pal who, according to Us Weekly, is designer Tracy Nguyen Romulus’s daughter Ryan. But the image, which features North and Ryan asleep in their car seats, is a reminder that stars really are just like us — as Kim, or whoever strapped these toddlers in, made some very common car seat errors that can jeopardize a child’s safety.
The biggest problem, though one that might not be immediately obvious to the untrained eye, is that it’s unclear whether either of the seats is connected to the back of the car with the tether strap. “[North’s seat] does not appear to be using the tether strap at all, while the child on the right in the photo — you can see a tether strap going up, but you can’t tell if it’s actually connected to what it should be,” Alisa Baer, MD, co-founder of The Car Seat Lady and an expert in car seat safety, tells Yahoo Parenting. “Every forward-facing seat in the U.S. comes with a tether strap that attaches the head of the car seat to the back of the vehicle. Every vehicle since 2000 has at least three positions with tether anchors, except some of the largest pickup trucks and tiniest convertibles. Every forward-facing seat should be placed in a position that has a tether anchor, and the tether strap should be connected and tightened.”
According to Baer, fewer than 40 percent of parents use the seat tethers, and of those who do, only three-quarters are using it properly. “Judging by this picture, these parents are by far in the majority — but it’s not the majority you want to be in,” she says.
The tether straps are important because they decrease how far a child’s head moves forward in a crash by at least 4 to 6 inches, when tested with a tightly installed seat, Baer says. “When the head moves forward in a crash, there is a risk of brain and spinal cord injury because the head can strike hard objects like the seat in front of the child, the door, or the window,” Baer notes. When installing tether straps, parents should be sure to follow the vehicle instructions carefully to figure out which car hooks are the tether anchors, rather than the cargo hooks. Confusing the two is a common mistake. “When people guess which is the tether anchor, they tend to guess wrong. It’s not enough to hook the seat up. You have to do it to the right place.”
More obvious errors in the Kardashian photo relate to the placement and tension of the straps. “These two children are riding forward-facing, and the shoulder straps need to come at or slightly above the child’s shoulders. In both cases, they are coming below or significantly below,” Baer says. “For kids in rear-facing car seats, the shoulder straps should come at or slightly below the shoulders. Kids should be rear-facing until at least 2 years old, but ideally longer, to the full rear-facing capacity of the seat.” In this case, while we know North is older than 2, Baer says that both car seats can hold children rear-facing up to 40 pounds, and that neither of the girls is 40 pounds or too tall to be rear-facing.
The final error that is obvious from this picture is that, at least in Ryan’s case, the straps are not tight enough. “There is a visible gap between the shoulder strap and her chest, and if you can see the gap, it is definitely too loose,” Baer says. “Sometimes the straps are too loose even if you can’t see the gap.”
Still, Baer points out that all of these mistakes are extremely common. “We find that greater than 90 percent of car seats are not used properly,” she says. “If I went to the daycare pickup line and looked in the first 10 cars, nine out of 10 would have these exact same problems. There is nothing out of the ordinary in the misuse seen in this picture.”
In most cases, Baer says, parents don’t make one single mistake. “It’s usually a combination of three things,” she says. “First, the seat is too loose in the car, which can be a result of many things, including not using the tether strap on a forward-facing seat. Also, often the child is too loose in the car seat, and the seat is being used inappropriately for child’s age and size.”
For parents in the same boat as Kardashian, the good news is that these fixes are easy to make. That way, after a busy day of pumpkin picking and face painting, your kiddos can safely pass out on the ride home.
(Photo: Instagram/Kim Kardashian)