When installing a child safety seat, considerations such as the weight of the child and which direction he or she should face are critical. Avoid the following missteps to ensure that the young ones on your buses are safe and comfortable.
1. Belt not securing seat tightly
When properly secured, a child safety seat should not move from side to side or forward more than one inch when the seat is grasped at the belt path. It should be clearly understood that when installing child safety seats in school buses, seat belt assemblies should comply with FMVSS 209 and seat belt assembly anchorages (including the seats) should comply with FMVSS 210.
2. Facing forward too soon
The American Academy of Pediatrics and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) recommend that children remain rear-facing in a child safety seat at least until they reach both 1 year of age and at least 20 pounds. If the child fits properly in the seat and doesn’t exceed the weight limit for the child safety seat, he or she can remain in a rear-facing position even longer.
3. Straps positioned in wrong slots
When the child is rear-facing, harness straps should be routed through the slots that are at or below the child’s shoulders. When forward facing, the straps should be routed through slots that are at or above the shoulders. For most convertible seats, the harness straps should be at the highest slots when forward facing, as these slots are reinforced. Check the owner’s manual for the child seat for specific instructions.
4. Improper use of locking clip
Since a locking clip is generally used when you have a seat belt system that is a lap and shoulder belt combination — with a free sliding latch plate — and, at present, no school bus has this type of seat belt arrangement, a locking clip would not be used to help secure a child safety seat on a school bus.
5. Retainer clip not used correctly
The retainer clip, which properly positions the shoulder harness straps used to secure a child in a safety seat, should be at the child’s armpit level. The straps should be properly threaded through the clip in the same manner on both sides of the clip.
6. Harness straps not tight enough
The harness straps are what will hold a child in position in the safety seat if a crash occurs. These straps should be snug enough so that only one finger can be placed between the strap and the child’s collarbone. Avoid dressing the child in bulky clothing during cold weather. Doing so may create a potentially dangerous gap between the harness straps and the child when secured. Using a small blanket or warm protective covering over the harness straps is acceptable.
To check that harness straps are snug enough, place one finger under a strap and try to pull it away from the child’s torso; it should stay close to the child’s body. Another method is trying to put a “tuck” in one of the straps; you should not be able to pinch the strap to fold it. Or, with the child facing forward in the safety seat, ask him or her to move forward; only the child’s head should move forward.
7. Improper safety seat for the child
Every child safety seat has weight and height limits. If a child weighs more than the seat allows, you must move the child to a different seat or different type of restraint system. Use a booster seat with internal harness system for a child as long as possible. A general rule of thumb is that children will not fit properly into a seat belt until they are at least 4 feet 9 inches tall and weigh 80 pounds.
A simple guide to follow in a school bus would be: rear-facing infant seat for a child under 20 to 22 pounds and under one year of age; forward-facing in a convertible or toddler safety seat, between about 22 pounds and up to 30 to 40 pounds (depending on the child safety seat). For a child between 35 to 40 pounds, when a convertible or toddler seat is too small, a forward-facing-only booster seat with internal five-point harness may be used. Read the safety seat owner’s manual for weight limits. Above 40 pounds, you should evaluate a child’s need for a safety vest or individual seat belt properly secured to a school bus seat. When using a safety vest on a school bus, be sure to follow the manufacturer’s guidelines for use in a school bus. Never allow an unrestrained passenger to sit in the seat directly behind a child secured in a safety vest.
8. Using a recalled or unsafe seat
Many child safety seats have been recalled by the manufacturer, but not all recalls require the seat to be returned or destroyed. Many simply require a replacement part that can be obtained free of charge from the manufacturer. A copy of the current recall list is available at the NHTSA Website (www.nhtsa.dot.gov). Most child safety seats have an expiration date on them. Avoid using them beyond the expiration date. Never use a child safety seat purchased from a resale shop or garage sale, since the history of the child safety seat is unknown and the seat may be missing critical parts. Never use a child safety seat after it has been involved in a moderate to severe crash. In many situations, the vehicle owner’s insurance company can replace the seat.
9. Safety seat is incompatible
When transporting a child in a non-school bus vehicle with an air bag, never place a rear-facing child safety seat in front of an air bag. Also, remember that not every safety seat will fit properly in every vehicle. Some safety seat designs are not compatible with certain seating arrangements in a school bus. Ask to try a child safety seat in the vehicle before you purchase it. There is no way to know if a child safety seat will fit in a school bus or other vehicle without actually trying it in that vehicle.
10. Using ‘nonstandard objects’ Never use bungee cords, tiedown straps, wire, clamps, duct tape, etc. to secure a child safety seat. Do not bolt, drill, screw or otherwise modify a child safety seat. Doing so could prove dangerous to vehicle occupants in a crash. A rolled towel or foam “pool noodle” can only be used under a rear-facing child safety seat to assist in the proper positioning of the seat at the required 45-degree angle. Nothing should be placed behind or under a forward-facing child safety seat.
If you are unable to secure a child safety seat or need assistance in checking one for recalls or proper installation, contact your local police, fire department or medical care facility and ask for a “Child Safety Seat Technician.” If they don’t have someone who is properly trained to answer questions, especially questions related to proper installation in a school bus, call NHTSA at (888) DASH-2-DOT, and they will help locate someone in your area.