Modern seat belts are designed to restrain an adult in case of a crash. However, young children have different body sizes than adults. Consequently, the lap belt may hit the stomach, and the shoulder strap can pass over the neck, which is uncomfortable and potentially dangerous.
Fortunately, making a few small adjustments can prevent discomfort and restrictive movement. This article will discuss five tips for properly adjusting your seat belt straps for safety and comfort.
Adjust the Shoulder Anchor
Tightening your seat belts straps may seem painful, but it will be much more comfortable and can save your life in a crash. Whether you are driving or caring for a child in a car seat, making sure that the shoulder anchor of the belt is snug will prevent it from cutting into your neck or twisting into your neck and strangling you in the event of a crash.
If you are in a rear-facing car seat, ensure the strap is snug over your child’s shoulders. If it is too loose, the crash force will be pulled upward on the head and neck, and if the straps are below the shoulders, the impact will be absorbed by your child’s chest and back rather than their shoulders.
Check that the dorsal D-ring is correctly positioned over your child’s shoulders and that the sub-pelvic strap rests under the buttocks. Also, ensure that the seat belt buckles aren’t twisted, as this can bind in the locking mechanisms and give you the impression that your child’s harness is tight when it is too loose.
Adjust the Harness
The harness should restrain the child with some slack, but not so much that it’s loose or falling. If the harness is too low, it could fall off the shoulders in a crash, and your child might be ejected from the seat. If the harness is too high, it will subject your child’s neck and head to unnecessarily high forces.
Ensure the harness is at armpit level for forward-facing seats and chest level for rear-facing seats. Some saddles have multiple loops behind the heart that can be adjusted to extend or shorten the length of the straps. Check the car seat’s owner manual for detailed instructions on how to do this.
Never wear the shoulder belt over your belly. It can cause a serious and potentially fatal injury in a crash. The shoulder belt should be snug across your chest and collarbone. Also, be sure the shoulder straps are not twisted. Twisted straps are narrower than a flat strap and would amplify the force of a crash.
Adjust the Lap Belt
During a crash, seat belts hold you tight against your seat. When they fit correctly, the lap part of the belt rests low over your hips and pelvic bones. The shoulder belt sits across your chest and away from your neck. If the shoulder belt hits your neck, it can prevent proper airbag deployment and lead to serious injury.
Lap and shoulder belts are the most effective way to protect children, teens, and adults in vehicle crashes. When the belts are positioned incorrectly, they may damage soft body parts and internal organs, cause spine fractures, or even pull you out of the vehicle and hurt your head and face.
Many new vehicles come with seat belt adjusters that can help you get a good fit. You can also purchase seat belt extenders for older vehicles or drivers needing extra room. In addition, buckling up consistently and encouraging family members to do the same can impact everyone’s safety. Insist that young adults and teens always wear seat belts, especially in the back seats of vehicles.
Adjust the Shoulder Strap
If you have a shoulder strap touching your neck or coming down too far on the chest, it can cause discomfort. It could also result in severe injury in a car accident. You can adjust the shoulder strap so it is even with your shoulders or slightly dipping below them. Alternatively, you can purchase an attachment to prevent the shoulder strap from hitting your neck.
The belt should never go over your belly or across your stomach. It should be low and snug around your hips and thighs. For pregnant drivers or passengers, the belt should be laced down and over their breasts, not across the stomach.
It’s important to remember that seat belts were made for safety, not comfort. A well-adjusted lap and shoulder belt can keep you in place during a crash, significantly reducing your risk of serious injury. Even though a tight seat belt can be uncomfortable, it’s better than the alternative of being thrown forward into the steering wheel or dashboard and being killed.
Adjust the Chest Clip
Incorrect chest clip positioning can cause harness straps to slide off the shoulder or neck in a crash. When this happens, the child could be partially or completely ejected from the seat. This can lead to serious injuries. The best way to avoid this is to ensure the chest clip is positioned at armpit level when buckled.
It can be difficult if your child wears a bulky winter coat. Luckily, a quick and easy test can help the “pinch test.” Pinch the webbing of one of the harness straps near your child’s shoulder to see if it’s tight enough. The straps should be snug, not close enough to press against your child’s skin.
When the chest clip is properly positioned at armpit height, it helps to pull the shoulder straps inward and place them correctly at the shoulders. It can also prevent the straps from riding up over the belly, which puts too much pressure on your child’s abdomen in a crash. It can lead to abdominal injuries.