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Car Seat Confessions: 10 Things You Might Not Know About Keeping Kids Safe

Sep14

by

Advice Smackdown ArchivesOnce upon a time I wrote what I thought was a harmless little post about switching my son Noah to a car booster seat. The baby seemed to be getting a little cramped in his infant car seat, so we thought we’d upgrade Noah before Ezra actually needed the big ol’ Britax convertible, just to offset any potential transition issues down the road. At the time, Noah was three years old, though closer to four, and about 35 pounds. We purchased a Graco high-back booster seat that said it was intended for children who were at least three years old and 30 pounds — criteria he more than exceeded.

Admittedly, I’d gotten the booster we purchased mixed up in my mind with another model, and was surprised that it only used the shoulder belt instead of a harness. Huh! My 3-year-old son using the seat belt! Already! Who knew?!?!

That post caused an UPROAR. My readers freaked out. It got linked to on a forum that apparently existed solely to talk about car seats, and its participants stampeded over to inform me how terribly negligent I was being.

And you know what? I didn’t respond to it very well, particularly since a lot of the hollering was not coming from concerned readers who were expressing themselves nicely, but strangers hellbent on calling my entire fitness as a mother into question. I was told that beyond needlessly endangering my son, I was breaking the law. People assumed that I was planning on putting the under-a-year baby in the Britax front-facing, when I of course had no intention of doing that. It’s a convertible seat! He’ll be rear-facing! I swear to God!

And I kept staring at the Graco box, totally baffled. Three years! 30 pounds! It says so right there! This is a highly-rated seat that passed all the necessary safety tests, purchased in my state and county, so how could it be illegal to use? What in the world is going on here?

Misinformation on both sides, as usual. I had never actually heard of the “four years/40 pounds” recommendation for booster seats. Other people had, obviously, but mistaken that recommendation for a law. The actual LAW, at least where I live, simply states that children must be seated in an appropriate child seat or booster that passed certain safety tests, and they must be using it according to the manufacturer’s specifications. Our booster seat met all of these criteria. I rolled my eyes, closed comments and moved on with life.

A couple weeks later, Noah had a tantrum while seated in his booster. I tried to talk him through it from the front seat, only to watch him in the rearview TURN HIS BODY AROUND and completely SLIDE OUT OF THE SEATBELT ONTO THE FLOOR. While I was DRIVING. At a not-entirely slow speed in a high-traffic area.

I pulled over immediately and screamed at that poor child like I have never screamed before. I was scared and shaking and sobbing and so was he. I buckled him back in, drove right home and yanked the booster out of the car and put his Britax back in.

When Ezra really did truly outgrow his infant seat (MONTHS after I’d originally declared the move “imminent”), we bought Noah a second high-back booster seat — another Britax, with a five-point harness belt. He is now just about five years old and over 40 pounds, but I have zero intention of using the shoulder-belt booster regularly anytime soon.

I’m telling you this because I just want you to know that I am not perfect. Even a mother who often jokes about being overly-researched and web-enabled can make a really, really stupid mistake about something really, really important. I now know that the manufacturer’s instructions and guidelines on the side of the box aren’t really all you should be paying attention to. I now know that we switched both of the boys to front-facing sooner that we SHOULD have, even though technically we were told we COULD. I have ridden in taxis and trains without car seats. I flew with Ezra on my lap once and I didn’t bring a booster for Noah when we flew to Jamaica. The car seat provided for him by our hotel there terrified the hell out of me, but I mostly just hoped it was better than nothing. We picked up an ancient car seat at a yard sale for use while visiting out-of-town family one time and only later did I think to check if it had been recalled. (It had.) These are my car seat confessions, and I’m hanging my head in shame while I read over them.

I know I’m not the only one, though. A friend of mine is expecting her third baby and just emailed me to report that after she just went to one of those car seat install/check things at their local police station (only because she thought her older kids would think it was fun)…she learned that she’d been installing the infant seat ALL WRONG, with BOTH babies. She also didn’t know about the six-year “expiration date” guideline for her seat, which was already five years old at that point.

So today I’ve compiled a list of some of the little-known (and or widely ignored) car seat guidelines and factoids. Most of these come courtesy of the Car Seat Lady, a great online resource for everything related to car seats and boosters, a resource I really wish I’d know about back before the Great Booster Seat Debacle:

1: While the law states that infants can sit front-facing at 12 months old, they SHOULD sit rear-facing as long as possible. Like, 35 pounds minimum possible.

2: In Sweden, children sit rear-facing until they are three or even five years old, then move directly to booster seats. Yes, that would definitely be considered “weird” here, but guess which country has the better track record for children getting injured or killed in car accidents?

3: Just because a child’s legs are long enough to press up against the back of the seat does NOT mean they are ready to sit front-facing. It is not unsafe for them to have their knees bent while they sit rear-facing. They are only “too tall” for their seat if the top of their head is less than an inch away from the top of the seat. But because of the differences between torsos and legs and proportions, the WEIGHT LIMIT is the one to really pay attention to.

4: The safest place for a car seat or booster in in the center position in the back seat. It is 43% safer than the side positions. Obviously, this isn’t always possible if you have multiple small children in seats in a small car, but if possible, try to keep the most vulnerable passenger in the center section.

5: Even after your child meets the four years/40 pounds booster car seat recommendation, a high-weight seat with a five-point harness seat belt is still safer, ESPECIALLY if your child is simply “big” for his/her age (and thus not behaviorally ready for a shoulder belt, as I learned the hard way) or has any special needs. Noah has ridden in the Graco booster for short trips here and there in our second car, and only in the past couple months would I say it’s an appropriate seat for him. (Though I still vastly prefer the harness seat.) (Likewise, there’s more to consider than height/weight requirements if you think your child no longer needs a booster. Read about that here.)

6: Yes, your child should ride in a car seat in a taxi. No, holding them in a Baby Bjorn or carrier does not offer ANY protection from a crash. And if you absolutely must ride sans car seat or booster, sharing a seat belt or holding them on your lap is the most dangerous option of all. Sit them down, buckle them in using their own dedicated belt.

7: If your child must use a lap and shoulder belt, tucking the shoulder strap under their arm or behind their back is a big no-no. (Good to know: I rode this way for YEARS as a kid.) It increases their chance for serious injuries in the event of a crash.

8: Some car seats come with an “expiration date” of just five years. Best practice says to retire seats after six years. Normal wear-and-tear can compromise a seat, or the manufacturer might stop checking for safety or reasons for recall. And it’s usually worth investing in a new seat for new babies just to make sure they can benefit from all the latest safety improvements and innovations.

9: Don’t buy or use secondhand car seats. They might be too old, or recalled, or been in an accident and no longer safe.

10: Likewise, donating used seats is not always a great idea either, depending on the age of the seat or whether you can pass on the owner’s manual/instructions. Seats that have been recalled (for unrepairable defects) are technically supposed to be deliberately damaged beyond repair, to prevent someone unknowingly using an unsafe seat. Consider your car seat a worthwhile short-term investment, albeit one that depreciates pretty quickly.

About the author

Amalah

http://www.amalah.com
Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy's daily mothering adventures at Amalah. Also, it's pronounced AIM-ah-lah.

If there is a question you would like answered on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to amyadvice@gmail.com.

Amy also documented her second pregnancy (with Ezra) in our wildly popular Weekly Pregnancy Calendar, Zero to Forty.

Amy is mother to rising first-grader Noah, preschooler Ezra, and toddler Ike.


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73 Responses to “Car Seat Confessions: 10 Things You Might Not Know About Keeping Kids Safe”

  1. Nicole C. Sep 14 at 4:04 pm Reply Reply

    This is a great post, the car seat issue is confusing in my opinion and thus… I’m confused… 35 pounds rear facing?? So my 3.5 year old who is 39 inches tall but only weighs 29 pounds should actually be rear facing still? How would that even work? What am I missing here? She is still in a convertible car-seat (not a booster of any kind) but has been facing front since about 18 months. (I at least knew not to switch her at 12 months since she’s always been tall but slight and only weighed about 16 pounds at her 1-year visit.)

    • Katy Sep 19 at 4:00 am Reply Reply

      Many convertible seats go to 40lbs rear facing. The graco head wise/size4me has the highest rear facing limits. She could easily rear face longer 

  2. Brooke Sep 14 at 4:19 pm Reply Reply

    Even more important than putting the kid in the center is to top tether your forward facing carseat. It is technically optional, but it makes a huge difference in safety by reducing head excursion. All new cars have tether anchors and most older cars can be retrofitted with them, often for free or very low cost.

  3. Wallydraigle Sep 14 at 5:00 pm Reply Reply

    Twice now (TWICE!) I have arrived at my destination to discover that the infant seat hadn’t locked into the base. One of those trips was an hour long. Through two towns, a highway, and an interstate. Awesome.

    The other day my husband and I got home from shopping. I went to get the toddler out of her seat and discovered she’d never been buckled in. Awesome.

    I win at motherhood. I win HARD.

    I am a bit perturbed at car manufacturers, however. In our minivan (a MINIVAN! practically made for people with children in car seats!), in order for the baby’s seat to be rear-facing, the seat in front of her has to be moved so far forward that whoever sits there can barely even get into the car. It’s ridiculous. Our van is ten years old, so maybe they’ve gotten better in the last few years, but it makes me angry every time I have to reinstall that stupid thing.

    And long-legged children are just screwed. If the toddler (who is only 28 lbs) were still rear-facing, her knees would be in her face. She’s about 95% leg and already tall enough for most 3T pants.

    • Kendra Sep 16 at 9:47 pm Reply Reply

      Bent legs are not an issue. My off the charts, 38 inch tall 2 year old who is all legs sits comfortably. She props her legs up or crosses them. And, interestingly enough, her legs are better protected rear-facing. :) http://csftl.org/rear-facing-car-seat-myths-busted/

      http://csftl.org/why-rear-facing-the-science-junkies-guide/

  4. Dawn K. Sep 14 at 5:03 pm Reply Reply

    AWESOME post. We are currently having some of these discussions in our house. He apparently transitioned my stepdaughter to forward facing before she turned one(didn’t know them at the time), and feels it will be ok to do with our baby (who is 5 months) as well. I’m a paramedic’s daughter and want to be the poster lady for the 35 pound minimum. Also, he thinks that when my stepdaughter turns 8 in three weeks, that at 48 lbs. and not too tall, that she’ll be ready for just a belt. I’m going to show him the Car Seat Lady’s 5 point checklist to show him that she’s not ready yet. As always, thank you for your honesty about unintentional mistakes and mishaps you’ve gone through to help better inform us. YOU ROCK!

  5. Rachael Sep 14 at 6:29 pm Reply Reply

    I had SO MUCH TROUBLE with my carseats. Yes plural, for my one baby. Sigh.

    I bought a convertible – the Cosco Scenera, a Consumer Reports Best Buy! – to save money and what not. Not even the car seat installer EXPERT in my county could get it installed rearfacing in my Jetta. Gah. Had to run out and buy a Snugride, like, 2 days before I was induced. Fun. (Was induced 3 weeks before my due date and had must moved to our firsthouseever 3 weeks before THAT… so yeah, I was leaving this a bit last minute I guess, cuz I was BUSY!)

    Anyway. Now my kiddo is 6 months old and pushing 20 pounds. My Snugride only goes to 22 I think. My pediatrician told me that because he’s “big for his age!” to go ahead and frontface at 12 months or the weight limit, whichever comes first (!!!)

    So I don’t know what to do. My carseat literally won’t fit in the car rearfacing. Buying a minivan would be great, but is not really an option for us right now. I want to rearface my little big boy as long as possible, of course. Do I put it in the front seat? Is that even legal? Or possible?

    (I would love to find a different seat that would fit, and all my friends rave about their Britaxes, but they are all BIGGER than my little Scenera, so no way they will fit rearfacing either, sadface)

    And then I have a bit of an existential/philosophical dilemma as well – I’m TRYING to do the whole Lenore Skenazy approach, where you don’t helicopter-parent or whatever. And when I was a baby, carseats were completely OPTIONAL, and I survived, so how crucial can it really be and all that. But then MAH BAAAAYBIE wah wah.

    Ugh. Halp, o wise amalah & commenters.

    (My “solution” to the problem has been to stick my fingers in my ears and go “LAH LAH LAH” and hope that Future Rachael will have EXACTLY the right knowhow to solve this.)

    • Katy Sep 19 at 3:59 am Reply Reply

      To to the carseats for the littles page on Facebook. If you give the your child’s height weight age and what car you drive and what your budget is for a seat they can help find the right seat. Your little needs to be rear facing until atleastage 2

  6. Margie Sep 14 at 6:46 pm Reply Reply

    Thank you so much! This is great! I was just wondering about turning my 18 month old who probably weighs about 21 pounds, and figured I shouldn’t yet, but now I know for sure. These pointers all coralled in one easy place are incredibly helpful. My helpful tip I now pass along to new parents is never to partially buckle the kid in the car seat for any reason. I’ve totally done this where I would think that I’d tighten her up after I did x thing, and I have forgotten, and oh is that horrifying when I arrived at my destination.

  7. Margie Sep 14 at 6:47 pm Reply Reply

    Thank you so much! This is great! I was just wondering about turning my 18 month old who probably weighs about 21 pounds, and figured I shouldn’t yet, but now I know for sure. These pointers all coralled in one easy place are incredibly helpful. My helpful tip I now pass along to new parents is never to partially buckle the kid in the car seat for any reason. I’ve totally done this where I would think that I’d tighten her up after I did x thing, and I have forgotten, and oh is that horrifying when I arrived at my destination.

  8. Tara Sep 14 at 6:58 pm Reply Reply

    Hi Rachael,
    If it helps, I have a VW Golf, and the Britax Roundabout fits in our car rear-facing (and forward-facing also).  

  9. Christine Sep 14 at 7:57 pm Reply Reply

    I kinda love the car seat lady!  They have so many helpful pointers on their site.

    Already mentioned here, but I wanted to point out- You must keep your baby rear facing until 20 lbs AND 1 year.  Even if your baby is 30 lbs at 10 mo, they don’t have the needed musculature in their necks to be front facing.  I’m appalled at the pediatrician that said to do 20 lbs or 1 year, which ever is first!  I believe that putting the car seat in the front seat is actually illegal, and you’ll need to just make sure you have a car seat that will fit in your car (sorry Rachael!)

    As well, the decision to get rid of the booster seat (Dawn K) should be partially based on height as well.  Many states are moving to include this in their legal requirements, and you’d need to check with the carseat lady but I believe it is actually at least 48 inches in height to get out of the booster, and this is because of where the belt hits on the chest.  This means I would have still been in the booster in 6th grade, fun times!

    Having said all of this, every parent makes mistakes.  A few years ago I arrived at a family dinner, to have my sister in law hunting me down (I’m a pediatrician) to ask about car seat questions for their 7 mo old boys.  My SIL is (was?  since divorced) an ENT and her husband is a trauma surgeon!  The boys were tall, she went to buy convertible seats, and then found the Britax model didn’t fit in the rear facing position in the Volvo SUV with her seats in their normal positions.  So, she went front facing.  I tried REALLY hard not to freak out, so she turned them around and just drove around with her seats moved forward 3 inches for the next 5 months or so.

    I really recommend looking at not only what kind of car seat you buy, but where you buy it.  I’m planning to get our car seat from the little maternity/infant store around the corner.  The owner is a certified car seat person, and they will install everything for you for free.  But, they’ll also take any of their car seat models out to your car and install it to make sure it fits before you buy it.  I love that!

  10. Madelyn Sep 14 at 8:09 pm Reply Reply

    Rachael, the only thing I can think of for your dilemma is to get one of the higher weight infant car seats like the Graco snugride 30 or the Chicco Keyfit 30. They are rear-facing infant seats that have a 30 lb weight limit and a higher height limit, should be high enough to get your little guy through the next few months at least. After that, I dunno, a bigger car? Passenger seat removal?

  11. Bonnie Sep 14 at 8:25 pm Reply Reply

    Fantastic timing! We just bought our first carseat yesterday for our little one, due in 5 1/2 weeks. We went with a convertible, too, and now I’m really glad we went with the one that doesn’t convert into a booster, too, now that I’ve read that it would have “expired” in 6 years anyways. We can just buy her a booster when she’s too big for this one. Hopefully I’ll remember your tips by then.

  12. HereWeGoAJen Sep 14 at 8:58 pm Reply Reply

    We bought the Graco MyRide65 because it is rear facing until 40 pounds and forward facing until 65. My daughter is 21 months old and still rear faces. I’ll keep her that way until she is too tall for rear facing (or too heavy, but I suspect that tall will come first with her).

    But thanks for the Car Seat Lady link. I hadn’t seen that. And I am probably going to move her back to the center because of her recommendation. We don’t have LATCH in the center and I was thinking that LATCH on the side was safer than seatbelt secured (in the carseat, not a regular seatbelt) in the center. But now I think I’ve changed my mind.

  13. Christina Sep 14 at 9:08 pm Reply Reply

    How about folding the handle down on the baby seats? I swore that having the handle down and locked was part of it’s saftey feature in terms of its crash protection and yet I constantly see people driving around with the handle up. In Washington (state) it’s the law.

  14. Brooke Sep 14 at 9:13 pm Reply Reply

    @Rachael- Talk to a car seat tech. Make sure they are actually certified as a Child Passenger Safety Technician with SafeKids. A lot of police depts and fire depts have car seat “installers” but they haven’t necessarily been certified. A Scenera in a Jetta shouldn’t be that hard. If you can’t find anyone (go to the SafeKids website to search), you can ask questions and get advice from a bunch of techs at car-seat.org who can help.

    My daughter rearfaced until almost 3.5 and about 29 pounds. She sat with her legs crossed and never complained about being uncomfortable, and she has long legs for her height. It worked really well for me because she couldn’t easily drop things out of her reach during our commute. Toys would just fall into her lap instead of the floor.

  15. crabby apple seed Sep 14 at 9:37 pm Reply Reply

    Rachael- we all survived riding in laps/without seatbelts/van surfing as children because we were never in serious accidents. it’s when you get hit that you need to worry. a hands-off approach in this case just doesn’t work, unfortunately. I’d like to second the rec to talk to a real car seat tech- a certified Child Passenger Safety Technician. You can look online for something i your area, or call your local children’s hospital. they should be able to hook you up. it is absolutely possible to get that car seat in there, even if it is a huge challenge! we have our Britax marathon rear-facing in my husband’s Corolla, so I know the irritation of fighting with it.

    two more notes:

    -kids legs are actually SAFER from injury when they’re rear-facing, even when they’re sitting with their legs folded/knees bent, than when they’re forward-facing. when they’re forward-facing, inertia works to slam their legs into the seat in front of them.
    -you can and should tether your car seat in rear-facing as well, in certain car models. check online or with a CPST to see if it’ll work in your car.

  16. Em Sep 14 at 10:19 pm Reply Reply

    I read the report by the “Freakonomics” guys (and watched the TED talk as well) that said that a regular belt is actually just as safe a carseat with a five-point harness for kids over 2. It convinced me that our Graco high-back booster was fine for our three year-old. (I guess not if your kid turns around, obviously.)

    The video they showed of kid dummies in a collision with just a regular belt vs. a five-point harness carseat was especially convincing…

    Here’s the link:

    http://www.ted.com/talks/steven_levitt_on_child_carseats.html

    • Rachel Jun 23 at 1:44 am Reply Reply

      Anyone who reads this should be aware that the Freakonomics argument for not using carseats has been proven wrong. Please don’t watch this TED talk and think it’s okay to put your two year old in a regular seatbelt.

      Levitt is an economist selling his book with “freaky” and sometimes sensational stories. He is not a pediatric physician with expertise in child passenger safety. His analysis of the data failed to account for many factors, including the severe injuries to internal organs that occur when a child is restrained by a seatbelt.

      Here is a press release summarizing the 2006 study entitled “Crash Data Confirms Child Safety Seats, Boosters Offer Survival Advantage to Child Passengers”
      http://injury.research.chop.edu/sites/default/files/documents/6_5_06_release.pdf

  17. Julie Sep 14 at 10:50 pm Reply Reply

    @Rachel – I bought the Costco scenera as the backup carseat for my husband’s car – he also has a VW Jetta (a 2000). We haven’t had any problems with having it rear facing in the middle rear seat, and he’s very tall so he can’t drive unless the seat is almost all the way back.

    What problems were you having with it? Was it physically fitting it in, or was it getting the seat level? I think we may have had to put a rolled up towel under the foot of it to get the right angle (which, as bad as it sounds, is actually the standard manufacturer recommendation for fixing leveling issues, and not the jury-rigged hack it sounds like!) If I can give you any tips, I’ll be happy to help.

    My “little” guy also outgrew his Graco at about 6 months old. If I’d know now what I knew then, I would have bought one of the infant seats that went to a higher weight limit. (I didn’t because I thought they were too heavy to carry around, but the infant seats are really too heavy once the baby is in them to carry much except from the house to the car anyway!) But we just moved up to the rear facing convertible at that point – the Costco for my husband’s car, and the… I forget which, but one of the bigger ones for my van. My kid is now 18 months old and 29 lbs and still rides rear-facing. At this point I’m trying to decide if I want to upgrade to one of the ones that goes to 40 lbs rear facing since at the rate he’s going he’ll still be pretty young by then, but I’ve decided to cross that bridge when I come to it – we’ll have a second baby by then, so I may upgrade him and pass down his current one to the new baby or something.

    At any rate, that’s all neither here nor there. The main point is yes, rear facing is a must. If you need to convince yourself, google “internal decapitation”. If you can’t get the Scenera installed correcctly, go to someplace that will let you haul all the floor models out to the car and see which fit, or at least let you buy them, haul them to the parking lot, then come back in and exchange them for the next model when they don’t even vaguely fit right.

    GOod luck!

  18. Jaymee Sep 14 at 10:51 pm Reply Reply

    Thank you so much for this post!!! I am very passionate about car seat safety. Unfortunately there are a lot of people out there that don’t know the facts. Again, thank you so much for this post!!!

  19. Sara Sep 14 at 10:57 pm Reply Reply

    Don’t let yourself feel too guilty. A kid crawling out of his seatbeat and onto the floor is scary, but, if the kid is properly buckled then I don’t think carseat types make as much difference as the industry would like us to believe. I see I’ve been beaten to it, but I would also recommend the freakonomics articles (http://freakonomics.blogs.nytimes.com/2005/07/09/more-evidence-on-car-seats-vs-seat-belts/).

  20. Jaymee Sep 14 at 11:07 pm Reply Reply

    After reading the comments, I noticed there are some that are concerned about their kids legs bending and touching the seat when rear faced. THIS IS OK AND SAFE!! The safest position is rear facing, and you SHOULD keep them this way as long as possible!

  21. Rachaelh Sep 14 at 11:58 pm Reply Reply

    Thanks everyone for the input/advice!

    To those who recommended a certified tech – that’s who I got to come out to the house. He was a big guy, and spent about 2 hours trying to get it in there. It would not go at ALL. Not even with the towel thing. The only way he could make it work at all was if the seat was 100% pushed forward and totally unusable… which obviously isn’t super helpful, I need to use my other passenger seats!

    (But, in a pinch, it’ll work.)

    To the woman who said she had a Jetta and got it to fit – DEFINITELY tell me your tips please! I have an ’02. The tech said the fit issues were due to the angle of the seats in the back…?

  22. Mary Sep 15 at 12:18 am Reply Reply

    I like the points you made, Amy, and I’d like to add two very basic ones. First, the chest clip should be at armpit level. Second the straps need to be *tight*! My friends love to post pictures on FB of their kids in their car seats and I have literally never seen one yet where the clip was high enough. The straps are usually visibly loose as well–it scares the crap out of me!

  23. ~a Sep 15 at 1:12 am Reply Reply

    I moved K into a booster at 40lbs. And was really unhappy. But as the babysitter didn’t see a whole lot of other options.

    Until the Graco Nautilus. It forward faces with a harness from 22-65lbs. And then turns into a booster until 100lbs. As a harnessed seat it has a life span of 6yrs, as a booster, 9yrs. She’s now 7.5 and I gave her the option this summer of me bringing the Graco lowback booster or the Nautilus. She chose the Nautilus. The SEVEN year old requested a harness. I’m impressed.

  24. Keely Sep 15 at 1:24 am Reply Reply

    Great post. Almost a year ago we were in a very bad car accident.We’ve been told our kids survived because they were in their seats correctly. Since then, I’ve become pretty much obsessed with car seat safety. When I think I’ve discovered I’ve been doing something wrong, I freak out – like I got my free pass and I won’t be so lucky again. Someday (when I’m still not so emotional about our accident) I’d like to become certified to teach others about car seat safety. In the meantime, I do what I can to do my research and share information. Thank you for this. I think you are a great mom.

  25. C Sep 15 at 4:00 am Reply Reply

    I am a bad, bad, bad mommy.

    When we lived in the US and had cars, my daughter was in her police-installed carseat rear-facing, and then her britax convertible rear-facing.

    BUT..we moved to Singapore 5 months ago. We don’t own cars here as public transit and taxis are cheaper and easier than the ridiculous government levies on owning a car. I haul my kid around in a Bugaboo Bee, which has crap for storage…there is NO WAY IN HELL I would be dragging my Britax around in the other hand. You literally could not pay me to do it. We take cabs fairly frequently and E is always in the backseat properly buckled (at the point, right after greeting the taxi uncle, she insists on “buckley buckley”).

    When we go home for a month I’ll buy a new Britax, but I’ll install it forward facing because it’s too much hassle to get an appointment to have it installed properly rear-facing. She’ll be 2 at that point. I’ll bring it back to Singapore, but it’s just going to gather dust until our next airplane ride because our lifestyle is not conducive to hauling it around.

    The truth is that if we hadn’t left, her Britax would still be rear facing and would stay that way for quite some time. But that would be because our lifestyle was conducive to it, not because I’m a better parent in the US. If we lived in NYC, I’d be singing the same tune about cab rides, and not pushing a stroller with one hand and hauling a convertible seat with the other.

    Maybe it’s lazy or bad parenting (feel free to shriek those words at me if makes you feel superior), but one of the many truths I’ve learned about parenting is that while there are “best practices,” you also have to be realistic. And for a mom whose child’s weight alone is just over what I’m safely allowed to be lifting, handling my child + a stroller + a car seat + whatever we’d left the house for in the first place = I could never leave the house, ever. It’s not what I think every parent should do, but I do know it’s what most urban parents are doing. There’s best practice and then’s not being a sherpa.

    I’m glad you posted about the 4/40 guideline though…we were considering a booster as it would last her until she was 80lbs, but will instead go convertible again.

  26. Tracy Sep 15 at 9:10 am Reply Reply

    Thanks so much for posting this, Amy. I’d like to add a few things.

    11. Your pediatrician is generally NOT a carseat expert. Don’t go to them for carseat advice. All firefighters and police officers are NOT carseat experts. Find one who is a certified CPS technician.

    12. Many people think it’s pointless to use a carseat on an airplane because “if there’s a crash, we’ll all die anyway.” That is not true. Most people survive crashes today. And even if there isn’t a crash, carseats prevent injuries caused by turbulence. You will NOT be able to hold onto your baby during a crash or severe turbulence. In fact, you will not be ALLOWED to hold your baby if you are going to crash – you will be told to put him on the floor. And this is so he does not injure the other passengers when he inevitably becomes a projectile. Please buy your kids a seat and use their carseat on the plane.

    13. Read the manual. You might be surprised. A combo seat/booster that goes “up to 80 lb” probably doesn’t go up to 80 lb *as a carseat*. You have to use it as a booster at some point.

  27. Natalie Sep 15 at 9:34 am Reply Reply

    My daughter was turned to front facing seat at 20 pounds and about 10 months. Her legs got too long and she was huge in the rearfacing seat and could grab the sides and turn herself all the way around to look at me so I thought it was time. She is 26 pounds now at 21 months…should she still be facing rear? How does that work? We have a large front facing seat with a five point harness and i just looked at it and it definitely doesn’t look like it can or should be turned around to be rearfacing…did I miss a step in the car seat sizes somewhere?

  28. Julie w Sep 15 at 10:15 am Reply Reply

    Hey- That Freakeconomics Article…I’d pull back on recommending that. Their conclusions are based upon a great percentage of parents installing the seat incorrectly. (So while it is better to have a seat belt used correctly rather than an incorrectly installed car seat it is still safer to have a properly installed seat)
    It’s a pain, but make your appointment! Get your seat installed correctly and then you have a much safer ride than you would otherwise get..

  29. jamie Sep 15 at 10:36 am Reply Reply

    thank you for this, amy! i can’t stress enough how important it is to get this information out there- REAR FACING IS SAFER. even if your kid’s legs are bent. the safer choice is not always convenient but it IS worth it.

  30. Rachel M Sep 15 at 11:48 am Reply Reply

    I have another one! 14. Most people don’t realise that the latch limit on the car itself is only good to 40lbs (unless your car manual specifies otherwise). Even if the seat is designed for children over 40lbs, when they hit that weight you should reinstall the seat using seatbelts and not the latch

  31. jasmine Sep 15 at 11:58 am Reply Reply

    I am an epidemiologist and have spoken about this with a DMV epidemiologist. She has done some very careful matched studies about the effectiveness of carseats versus shoulder belts in a variety of car positions and crash intensities (although I’m not sure if proper installation came into it). Her conclusion is that a fatal crash is a fatal crash. But! A car seat is the difference between walking away without a scratch or breaking arms, whiplash, internal bleeding etc…I’m not trying to dismiss carseats AT ALL, but offering this as a way to tone down the ‘ OMG DO THIS THE ONE RIGHT WAY OR YOUR KID WILL DIE’ rhetoric. I’m almost 30 and I recall the embarrassment of being forced to sit in a booster seat until I was 6 (back when nobody did it). I’m glad they all suffer together now by law :)

    • Sam Nov 02 at 1:10 am Reply Reply

      Ummm…A fatal crash doesn’t always have to be a fatal crash. 

      A forward facing 18 month old could have the cartilage, that has yet to turn to hard bone, stretch and snap in their neck. The cartilage can stretch 1/4 of an inch before this happens. It doesn’t even have to be a bad wreck. 

      Same child rear facing would likely walk away without a scratch as their neck and spine would have been cradled by the car seat during the crash. 

  32. Samantha Sep 15 at 12:11 pm Reply Reply

    So my follow up question is, what do you all do when you have a wily two year old who has figured out how to get out of her carseat??? The seat is in correctly, the harness is tightened, but she is too smart. Is there some kind of device you can add on to make the chest clip not move? She slides it up and down and sometimes gets her arms free. Do I need a different seat with a different type of chest clip?

    • Sam Nov 02 at 1:18 am Reply Reply

      There are a bunch of solutions. Check on a car seat forum. 

  33. Karen Cuni Sep 15 at 12:29 pm Reply Reply

    Just wanted to leave a note on the whole “middle of the back seat” thing. My husband and I drive sedans – 99 Passat and 98 Maxima. We have our carseats installed on the side for two reasons – 1. I would throw my back out trying to manage a kid at the middle seat, and 2. that’s where the carseat tech told me they’d have to be installed. The middle of our backseat has a “hump” and if we’d put a carseat there, it wouldn’t have sat squarely on the seat.

    And about those carseat techs – I’ve had two different techs tell me that my carseat was installed improperly – when they were looking at carseats that had been installed by techs. So I don’t make appts anymore.

  34. Brooke Sep 15 at 1:34 pm Reply Reply

    @Samantha- put some velcro on the chest clip, but just the scratchy side. That will prevent most toddlers from messing with the chest clip because it will be unpleasant to touch.

    @Natalie- I am not sure how a properly restrained kid could actually turn her body around. Were the straps tight enough? It’s possible that your current seat does not rearface. I would buy a new seat and turn her around, but that’s a decision you need to make for your family.

  35. Amy in StL Sep 15 at 1:43 pm Reply Reply

    My boyfriend is a fireman and they’re quit doing car seat installs. After reading this; I understand their logic. These guys are trained to save lives and to run toward burning things; but they’re not trained to install car seats. It’s ridiculous that municipalities still offer this.

  36. Julie Sep 15 at 2:54 pm Reply Reply

    @Rachel – (I’m the one with the Jetta) Unfortunately my husband is out of town till Friday, so I can’t go out and look at how we had it installed. I know we had it in the center rear position, and it just barely fit in between the two forward passenger seats, but it worked. If you’d like you can send me an e-mail (mazlynn at gmail dot com) and I would be happy to take some pictures of how we have it set up to send to you when he gets back. It may be a redesign between car years, or we may not have it at quite the exactly perfect angle, but if it’s not installed correctly it’s pretty darned close – I haven’t had the Scenera checked by the pros since it’s in and out of the car so much, but I had my other ones checked and we always got them installed correctly within the range of “well, you could maybe get this belt a tiny bit tighter, but it’s pretty darned good”.

    It just occured to me – I bet your Jetta has LATCH system. Ours doesn’t, so we’re installing it with the seatbelt. Maybe that makes the difference? If you haven’t already, try it with the seatbelt in the center rear instead of the LATCH system.

  37. Therese Sep 15 at 3:17 pm Reply Reply

    Awesome article Amy. My son is 16 months old and I’ve discovered that we’re the only ones of our peers with children about the same age to still be rear facing. Our pediatrician mentioned it first and then we followed up with Safe Kids and our car seat manufacturer. Our friends just keep saying that their pediatrician told them it was fine so they’re not going to worry about it…
    I have to also second what some other commenters have mentioned regarding seats and fitting in cars well. My husband has a late model Chevy Cavalier. We did our research on covertible seats and bought a big/safe/highly rated one. It absolutely does NOT fit in his car rear facing unless the front seats are all the way forward. We had a certified Safe Kids tech even check. For now, it’s forward facing and we just use his car to transport our son as rarely as possible. I highly recommend folks purchase from a store that will allow you to borrow samples and see what will fit in in your vehicle. The safest/biggest seat does no good if it can’t be correctly installed! Lastly, just because your car has a LATCH system doesn’t mean that’s the best way to install. We had difficulty securing the convertible rear facing in my (newer) car with the LATCH system. Two different Safe Kids techs checked and switched it to the seat belt. They said that sometimes the big convertibles don’t tighten down enough with the LATCH system when they’re rear facing. It worked perfectly with the seatbelt. I just assumed the LATCH system was always the better option. Again, if it doesn’t work correctly, don’t use it.

    • Sam Nov 02 at 1:20 am Reply Reply

      Check on car seat forum. They usually have great solutions. 

  38. Suzy Q Sep 15 at 6:49 pm Reply Reply

    There is certainly a LOT of good information in this post, but it made me laugh just a little. When I was a kid, the only “seat belt” was my mother’s arm flailing out against my chest if she stopped short. It’s a wonder any of us kids from the ’60s even survived!

  39. Susan Sep 15 at 11:46 pm Reply Reply

    Bonnie – the expiration date on 3-in-1 convertible carseats (ones that are rear-facing, then forward facing, then booster seats) only applies to the time you use the 5 point harness. Once you switch to using it as a booster with the seatbelt, the expiration date is moot. Of course, who knows what new car seat technology will be available when our son is ready for a booster… chances are we will buy something new then anyone (if anything to get something that doesn’t have a three inch layer of Cheerios dust on it!).

    Rachael – we had a 2003 Jetta and traded it for an 04 Honda CR-V three days before our son was born because I realized the Graco Snugride wouldn’t even fit it in the middle backseat without pushing at least the passenger seat all the way forward. We have the Cosco Scenera in my husband’s Pathfinder (and in grandparents’ and aunt’s cars) and also use it for traveling – love how lightweight and compact it is.

    I also agree with Therese who said that LATCH isn’t always the best way to install a seat depending on the year/make/model of your car.

    • Sam Nov 02 at 1:23 am Reply Reply

      Susan, that’s not true. The booster portion expires as well. 

      The 3-1 are usually never a good choice though. 

  40. Brandi Sep 16 at 11:52 am Reply Reply

    Wow. I don’t have kids yet, but my head is about to explode at all this! I never knew carseat stuff was so complex! yowza! However when the time comes I will be able to check out this article and all the helpful advice. Now i’m off to write a thank you note to my parents for handling all this when I was a kid! BTW, as a child I once threw a temper tantrum because my grandmother wasn’t going to buckle me in and I was adament that I WANTED TO BUCKLE MY SEAT BELT! So as tantrums go I at least had a good reason for that one!

  41. Kim Sep 16 at 12:26 pm Reply Reply

    I’m getting ready for the flames….Amy, to me the point of your story was that the original booster was safe – it was Noah’s behavior that wasn’t. That’s a perfectly valid criteria, but it doesn’t mean you were wrong or negligent to have used it before. Especially since you stopped once you figured out what was going on. As for me, I read all the research and checked out Car Seat Lady, too. Then I installed my daughter’s car seat on the passenger side, and subsequently turned her around at about 15 months. I aim for reasonable safety, and risk is only one factor. For me, hoisting the infant seat in and out of the middle seat and wrestling a screaming toddler into the a rearfacing one every. sing. time. we got into the car were not worth the relatively slight safety advantages in the unlikely event that we were in a serious accident. But that’s me. My 3.5yo is in a Sunshine Radian, which will comfortably fit her for a long time to come, but I am going to buy her a booster seat shortly for the times when she isn’t in my car. It’s a bear to swap in and out. I”m not careless or a bad mother. I’m just more into risk assessment than safety at all costs.

    • Sam Nov 02 at 1:31 am Reply Reply

      Even if Noah’s behavior was perfect, his 3yo bones could not handle the force of an adult seatbelt. Google how many 3yo kids die in booster seats. Check out Belle’s Gift. 

      RF at 15 months isn’t a “slight safety advantage” it is often the difference between life and death in motor vehicle accidents. 

  42. Alias Mother Sep 16 at 12:26 pm Reply Reply

    I just…the carseat thing kind of pisses me off. It does. People act like not having your kid rear-facing, in a helmet, and wrapped with bubble wrap until they are 27 is equivalent to forcibly injecting them with heroin.

    Look, I have tall, skinny kids. If I keep them rear-facing until 40 pounds, their knees would be literally in their eyeballs. It may be a tiny, itsy-bitsy, statistical error smidgen safer, but it sure isn’t comfortable. I am a cautious driver, I drive a safe car, I put my kids in appropriate seats. Stop acting like I am wishing their death because I refuse to go extreme.

  43. RAS Sep 16 at 6:47 pm Reply Reply

    @aliasmother — I was starting to think i was the only one who feels like this! A few months ago, I posted a comment on another mom’s blog – she has a daughter a few days younger than my youngest kid, and she posted that, at 15 months, her kid had just cracked 20 pounds. Since my DD is also tiny (she’s just now 21 pounds at 19 months), I asked if it was wonderful finally being able to turn her daughter around. From the comments, you’d have thought I asked her if she was enjoying strapping her toddler to the roof racks!

    My issue with the whole hysterical “OMG rear-face until they start kindergarten or your kid WILL DIE” (not that your post is at all hysterical, Amy — in fact, it’s downright reasonable) is that nobody, but nobody can ever point to a single study with actual statistics on the efficacy of rear-facing until they’re huge. I have searched high and low for that information and all I ever find is the claim that it’s twice as safe for the kids to be rear-facing, but there’s never a single number backing that claim.

    I will admit, by the time my little one was 18 months old and on the cusp of 20 pounds, I was weighing her every single day, just counting the moments until I could turn her. And once we did, car trips went from screaming marathons to (reasonably) pleasant. I maintain that the lack of desperate screaming lowers my risk of getting in an accident enough to offset the risk of her being forward-facing.

    FWIW, my older kid switched to a booster when she hit 40 pounds and 40 inches. At that point, she was too big for her Britax roundabout and I couldn’t see spending hundreds of dollars to buy a carseat she could use until college. Her switch to a booster was accompanied by many dire warnings about exactly how badly she’d be punished if she didn’t sit properly, and so far everything’s been fine.

  44. Emily Sep 16 at 8:57 pm Reply Reply

    well, what I’ve learned installing our carseat is that carseats should not go in the middle if the seat is split there for folding down. So, in the xterra, the carseat goes behind the driver. Also, if you go with those weight rules 100%, I would have been in high school before I was out of a booster seat. And I’m glad that wasn’t the case.

  45. Michelle B. Sep 17 at 10:11 am Reply Reply

    What happens to all these discarded car seat?! Are they able to be recycled in any way? Do they just pile up in a landfill? Are any manufacturers taking back old car seats so they can recycle them somehow? This seems like such a waste.

  46. Christine Sep 17 at 7:04 pm Reply Reply

    I’m afraid I read your original post, back then, and said to myself, that’s what we do, we get a high-back booster for kid one, because he’ll be 3 by then, and move the baby into the rear-facing convertible. And that’s what we did.
    The threat of borrowing another convertible (probably what I should have done) and the lure of being a big boy and a “responsible passenger” kept him pretty safely under his seatbelt in the early weeks, and now he really is a responsible passenger. Sorry, I know, not the safest, but it worked out fine for us.
    The baby is rising two and still happily rear facing. I see no need to turn her around any time soon.
    That said, I have flown with a lap infant many times, though I don’t like it. Transatlantically, it’s just too damn expensive to buy them their own seat, and I have *never* seen anyone on a long haul flight with an infant in their own seat.

  47. Sid Sep 20 at 8:59 am Reply Reply

    Does anyone else think it’s completely insane that car seats are apparently so difficult to install/use properly? What is the point of creating all this enforced safety if someone with a reasonable IQ can’t figure out how to use one? Or that we apparently can’t trust the instructions on the seat which tell us when the child can be moved to front-facing but we’re supposed to trust the expiry dates? When something is so complex it undermines the very purpose of using it = insanity.

  48. Olivia Sep 20 at 10:09 am Reply Reply

    Kim, I’m with you on reasonable safety. We turned our daughter’s seat around when she was 16 months and about 22 lbs. I have read the research on keeping kids rear facing longer, but it was a fight every single time to get her in rear facing. She desperately wanted to see what was going on, and I belive emotional health is very important, too (for her and me).
    Since then she has not fussed once about getting into her seat.

  49. bhn Sep 23 at 5:12 pm Reply Reply

    I wish I had time to read all the comments, but I don’t. If you are having a hard time finding a seat to fit your car, please check out car-seat.org – they have charts that tell you what will fit in your car, rear and front facing.

  50. rebekah Sep 26 at 5:28 pm Reply Reply

    I know that if you take old cribs, carseats, pack n plays etc. to Babies ‘R Us, the store will give you a discount on your next purchase of one of these big items. In Alaska, it is 25% off. I am not sure how much it is in other places!!

  51. Jessica Sep 27 at 6:12 pm Reply Reply

    Wow, I did not know that babies should be rear facing until 35 pounds. My son is 2 and is still under 30 pounds. We turned him around at 11 months because he was big enough because my new car seat wouldn’t fit in my car as a rear-facing seat. Sadly, my middle seatbelt in the back doesn’t work so he’s on the side.

    I have flown many times with him in my arms. I understand why they want them in the seat, especially for turbulence. But it’s just so expensive!

  52. mandy Oct 07 at 7:06 pm Reply Reply

    @aliasmotheyou are a safe driver, but I am beside you texting on my phone, speeding cause I’m late, and applying my make up…I am not a safe driver.

    Yes there are some extremests out there about rear facing to the limits but RF to even 2 is important you you child. There poor little necks aren’t hardened enough to with stand a bad crash (from another driver) at 1 some not even at 2 :( If 500% safer isn’t good enough for YOU make do it for your child then…Visit Car-Seat.org and learn more!!

  53. Joanna Oct 07 at 7:13 pm Reply Reply

    As a Child Passenger Safety Technician, I really enjoyed reading your perspective.   You made the right decision putting your preschooler into a harness.  Boostering is all about maturity, and three year old boys just don’t have it yet!

    I’d respectfully like to address one of your comments, that children should be rear facing until 35 pounds.   What’s really important is age, not size.  Kids should be rear facing to 3-4 years of age.   A forward facing 3 year old is no more or less safe regardless if she weighs 25 or 40 pounds.   It’s all about age and bone development.  

    It’s very normal for a 1 year old to ‘fight’ the car seat.  It’s important for parents to grit their teeth and get through it, and NOT give in.  It’s just too deadly. 

    To address the previous poster who believes there is no proof that rear facing is safer, she must have missed the dizzying preponderance of evidence available over a period of 60 years, including a recent study published in 2007, showing a 500% increase in likelihood for fatality or serious injury for forward facing kids between 1 and 2.   

  54. JGM Oct 07 at 7:18 pm Reply Reply

    Great article! As both a Certified Child Passenger Safety Technician and a mother of two, I urge anyone who has questions to visit car-seat.org or go to the carseatlady’s website. Reading through these comments I am seeing A LOT of misinformation. While I am sure everybody means well, let’s let the experts answer these questions.

  55. Rachel Oct 07 at 8:02 pm Reply Reply

    While the above information is wonderful and it is great to educate people on common car seat misuse, I would like to clarify one thing. The recommendation for rear-facing is to the limits of the child’s convertible seat or a minimum of 2 years old. Most convertible seats rear face to 35-40lbs now, but most children will outgrow them in height first. It is whichever is reached first, the weight limit or when there is less than 1 inch of shell above their head. Ideally this would be after age 2, closer to 3. The emphasis should not be so much on weight.

  56. angela Oct 08 at 12:00 am Reply Reply

    (Sorry if this is double posted, computer locked up)
    Thank you so much for posting this! If you can help just one family learn about ways to keep their children safer in the car, eventually the word will spread!
    For those asking WHY to keep children rear facing- legs can be fixed, necks can’t. This helps illustrate why (and if you need any further convincing check out http://www.joelsjourney.org) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sssIsceKd6U&feature=player_embedded

  57. Jacky Oct 08 at 12:05 pm Reply Reply

    For those that cannot seem to get the seat in their car rearfacing, did you know that for an older child, the seat can be more upright? Most can be as upright as 30 degrees, which gives a lot more room.

  58. Mackenzy Oct 08 at 2:34 pm Reply Reply

    Way up above there was a comment from Wallydraigle that I wanted to address. She stated that long legged children are just screwed and that their daughter at 28 lbs and 3T pants would have her knees in her face. This is simply not true. My DS is 2, 34 lbs, wears 3T pants and 4T shirts. He is still very comfortably rear facing. Here is a link to the “Rear Facing Photo Album” that has lots of wonderful pictures of big kids that are safely and comfortably riding rear facing. http://www.cpsafety.com/articles/RFAlbum.aspx

  59. sarah Aug 20 at 3:49 am Reply Reply

    I am agree with “Don’t buy or use secondhand car seats”. Car seat for baby maybe expensive. But that is worth price to buy for our priceless baby safety.

  60. Athena Apr 03 at 2:23 am Reply Reply

    I think it depends some on the seat and setup… the convertible seat we got for our son was the kind that reclines in rear-facing position to accomodate newborns. It was not designed to be installed rear-facing and upright, and had a height marker which, when your child’s shoulders reached the line, indicated that it should be turned front-facing.

    I know children are meant to stay rear-facing to 6 months and are recommended to stay that way much longer, but Toshiro was very big for his age (reached the line at ~4months) and, with the design of the seat, I was concerned that trying to keep him rear-facing longer might actually cause weight-bearing issues (with weight on the seat further away from the pivot-point than designed), so I turned him forward facing then.

    Not *quite* the same issue as going into a booster early, since in a five-point harness there was no way Toshy was wriggling out, but still.

  61. melissa May 12 at 11:10 pm Reply Reply

    Thank you for this. We’re in similar situation as your story. I saw on the graco box it said 3 and 30lb and it was on sale. Got home and realized there was no harness and knew that couldn’t be right. Still in box thank goodness. So I googled and got here.
    Returning tomorrow to the store.

  62. cabrini May 22 at 2:24 pm Reply Reply

    This 80-100 booster seat, is hilarious to me! I’m 95 lbs 5’2 adult- do I need a booster? My seven yr. Old is built like me- she’s in a booster seat, but I’m not going to make her sit in one when she’s 16…

    • owly May 28 at 2:46 am Reply Reply

      Hi Cabrini,

      The simple answer is no. Why? You’re an adult with and adult skeleton. Even as a small adult you have a mature Iliac crest which will help prevent the lap portion of a lap/shoulder belt from riding up onto your abdomen and causing abdominal injuries during a crash.

      It’s great that your daughter is in a booster! *thumbs up* She will need to stay bolstered for a while though. The best thing would be until puberty is she still fits a booster. A young child’s hip bones aren’t strong enough to withstand crash forces, so a booster is used as artificial hips. It takes some of the force and holds the lap belt down, preventing abdominal injuries :) 

      Did you know that seatbelts are made for 50% men? They’re definitely not for kids.

  63. Tawny Aug 28 at 3:20 am Reply Reply

    HI there,
    I just moved my 6.5 year old, 40 pound daughter into a high backed booster seat. This was hard for me to do, but she literally wasn’t fitting in her car seat anymore. After endless researched, ordered the safest one I could find and read all the directions front and back. She is in the center seat. However, every time we turn a curve or corner, her entire seat turns as well. She can be facing side ways sometimes and I have to straighten it out from the front seat. What in the world is the problem and how can I remedy this? I want her as safe as possible, but sliding everywhere doesn’t seem safe at all. Any suggestions? Thanks

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