More than half of car seats checked are installed wrong

By Chicago 4 Min Read

CHAMPAIGN — In her 17 years of checking car seats to see if they’re installed correctly, Christina Ladage has seen some things that would make a safety-conscious parent’s hair stand on end.

To name two — babies arriving in car seats in which the harnesses intended to keep them secure are unfastened, and babies in car seats that aren’t strapped into the car at all, so both seat and baby are free to slide around when the car is in motion.


“You’d be surprised,” said Ladage, who oversees the Champaign-Urbana Public Health District’s car seat inspection program.

Mostly, though, it’s small things that get overlooked but still can cause a car seat to be unsafe in the event of a crash or sudden stop, she said.

She encourages all parents to take advantage of these free inspections, and grandparents are also welcome, she said. But book your appointment well in advance — not when baby is due next week.

The public health district schedules these inspections for one day a month, usually the second Monday of the month.

Right now, appointments are booked up for the next one, Nov. 13, and the one after that in December — but as of Thursday, there were still some openings for January 2024, Ladage said.

These inspections, done in a garage at the public health district’s headquarters at 201 W. Kenyon Road, C, involve the inspector running through a 54-point checklist.

Even parents who read their car manual and the car seat installation instructions and watch YouTube videos on how to install their car seats sometimes overlook certain things, Ladage said.

Of the 142 car seat inspections done at the public health district so far this year, inspectors have found installation errors in 77 — not including those in which people arrive with their car seats still in the box or otherwise not installed yet, she said.

Nationally, 59 percent of car seats are installed incorrectly, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

One mistake is securing the car seat in the car using both the seat belt and the lower anchors. It’s one or the other, unless otherwise indicated by the manufacturer, Ladage said.

More commonly, the seat belt may be twisted, or the car seat isn’t secured tightly enough, allowing for too much give that can allow it to be pushed or wiggled from side to side.

Sometimes the car seats themselves may be past their expiration year.

Because car seats are typically left in cars, the cold or heat can break down the materials they’re made of, Ladage said.

Older car seat models passed on to new parents also may be missing pieces or could possibly have been subject to recalls.

To sign-up for an inspection appointment through public health, call the Buckle Up line at 217-353-4932.

Have some volunteer time to give?

The public health district is currently looking for more volunteers to serve as trained car seat inspectors to keep up with the demand, Ladage said.

Three-quarters of the training (which isn’t done through the public health district) is done online, and there’s a charge of $95, with some limited scholarships available.

For more information on training:

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