Audrey Killarney Peri, RN, knows car seat safety. Before coming to RUSH, where she now works as a clinical quality educator, she was a pediatric emergency room nurse. There, she saw many patients from motor vehicle collisions. And she noticed that the kids’ severity of injury had to do with how they were secured in their car seats. Or rather, how they weren’t.
That made her want to give people the best advice she could about car seats. But it was challenging at first. There wasn't a set of standards she could point to. “It was hard not knowing where to send my patients and caregivers and families,” Peri says. “So I did some digging.”
In addition, a local car seat safety program closed during the COVID-19 pandemic, leaving many families on the West Side of Chicago with little to no access to car seats and car seat education.
She got a research grant during Nurses Week in 2021. Soon after, she set to work crafting guidance on car seat safety. First, she performed a system-wide analysis to determine what resources for car seat use RUSH caregivers had.
There was no discrete program, so she completed the Child Passenger Safety Technician training course and developed a training program for providers and caregivers derived from SafeKids.org.
Now her program is RUSH’s standard for parents and caregivers alike. Peri also works closely with car seat safety programs to receive ongoing car seat donations for RUSH patients and families.
Killarney-Peri shares some helpful tips for buckling kids in for a safe car ride.
The most important rule of car seat safety
“My top rule,” she says, “is to avoid graduating kids from their car seat too soon.” That means letting kids stay in the rear-facing position for as long as their size allows it. Beyond that, she says there are five easy steps to car seat safety:
Maybe the most important car seat choice is buying the right one. The seat must be the right size, but it also must be appropriate for a kid’s age, have the right price point, not to mention be easy to carry and install. A more expensive car seat isn’t always better. Pick the one that’s best for you.
Direction of the seat
Rear-facing seating is always safer for kids. You want to keep them in that position for as long as it’s appropriate. But how do you know?
Illinois state law mandates children under 2 ride rear-facing. However, all car seats are different, Peri says, so reading the label is key. When kids are ready to finally ride front-facing in their car seats, make sure their size and age correspond to the specific guidance on the seat’s label.
Location in the car
The back seat of the car is always the best. And in the state of Illinois, kids have to stay in the back until they're at least 13. But consider the seating of other kids in the car in addition to a car seat.
For example, Peri says, “if you have a toddler and a school-age child that you're dropping off at school or daycare, but you also have an infant, the best place for the infant is the middle seat because you know that you're going to have to get your two kids out of each of the sides of the backseat harnessing.”
When harnessing a kid in a car seat, always make sure you’re taking their clothing into account for the right fit. Bulky clothes or thin clothes can affect how tightly or loosely kids fit in their car seat harness, so be mindful and adjust. It’s better for the harness to be too snug than too loose. And during Chicago winters, remember to harness first, then bundle.
Installation in the car
The top priority in installing a car seat is making sure that it’s well-restrained. It shouldn’t move more than an inch at the seatbelt pass with the back where it connects to the car. And as you're moving your kids out of the seat, it can get loose. So Peri says the best way to make sure a car seat’s secure is simple: every time you fill up your tank, tighten the car seat.
Bottom line: Keep it simple and safe
It’s key to finding the best car seat for you. And the price isn’t as important as how it works for you. If it has clear labeling and you feel comfortable using it, then it’s the right one. Following the five simple steps above will keep kids riding safely on the road. That way, everyone in the car can ride with peace of mind.