I tried researching the exact percentage of car seats that are improperly installed. I found numbers ranging from 70% to 95%. Most of the numbers fell in the 80% range. No matter what the true number is, even 70% is entirely too high.
A common argument I see when people try to defend this is, "At least the kid is in a car seat." This is a moot point in my book. If the child is within the weight and height limits to need a car seat, then it should just be a given that the child be in a car seat. There should be no"at least."
Automobile accidents are the leading cause of death in children ages 1 year old to 12 years old.
Having a car seat properly installed reduces the risk of death in infants by as much as 71% and 54% in toddlers. I didn't find numbers for older children, but I am sure you can see a trend here.
No one wants to think that they are going to have a wreck, but the reality is that car crashes occur everyday. Even if you are a very defensive driver, the person next to you could be drunk, texting, and trying to eat a cheeseburger. I tried to look up numbers for how many accidents occur each day in the U.S. and again, the numbers were spread out. 16,934 seemed to be a popular number, but I couldn't find a credible source to back that up.
I do know that I live on the Tennessee boarder and there is an electronic sign you have to pass under on the interstate. It has been reporting the number of fatalities due to automobile accidents this year in Tennessee alone. The last I saw, that number was approaching 500. I did the math and that rounds out to three deaths per day in Tennessee alone so far this year! And that is surely no where near the number of crashes that actually occur each day. Surely none of those people expected to be in a crash that day. It is much better to be safe than sorry.
Each brand of car seat is different, so the only way to insure that your car seat is properly installed is to read your child's car seat manual from cover to cover, and then cross reference it with your car's manual. If, for some reason, you don't have one or both of these, you can typically find an electronic version of the manual on the manufacturer's website.
When I bought the kids' new car seats (they both got a Safety First Alpha Elite) I did read the manual cover to cover, and I was surprised to see the differences between that car seat and their old ones. They were only slight differences, but these differences could mean the difference between life and death in the event of an accident.
*Side note: never use the LATCH system and the seat belt at the same time.They are two separate methods of restraining a car seat. They are not meant to be used simultaneously. *ETA* Unless your car seat's manual states otherwise, but this is rare! So again, read the manual carefully! Older cars do not have the LATCH system, so most car seats are designed to where you use either or, not both. Car seats are designed to move slightly in an impact to reduce the force of the crash on the child. If you are using both (and not supposed to be), then they can have an effect of cancelling each other out, and cause the seat to fail. Also, neither one is superior to the other when used properly. However, it is typically considered easier to get the seat properly installed while using the LATCH system. I currently don't have any experience with the LATCH system because my car is a 1998 and does not have that feature, but I have heard that it makes getting the seat tightly installed much easier. *End of ETA*
If you do not feel confident that you can properly install the seat on your own, call your local health department or fire department. One of these places will typically have someone who will install it for you free of charge, or they can direct to someone who can. Makes sure the person who is installing it is certified. Otherwise, you may have someone who has no idea what they are doing, which can cause more harm than good.
I realize that this only puts a dent in all the car seat safety issues. I aim to cover one issue per post. I hope I have covered this one thoroughly. Future posts will address how car seats can be properly installed.