Safety experts say many accessories could make child car seats unsafe

Before you buckle your kids into a car seat for a road trip this holiday weekend, a warning about toys and items to make them more comfortable in the car.

The Centers for Disease Control estimates nearly 60% of car seats are misused in a way that can reduce their safety.  

You have a child car seat to keep them safe. But maybe you've added a harness cover to make them more comfortable, or have given them toys to keep them occupied on a road trip.

While child and infant car seats go through rigorous safety testing, most aftermarket accessories do not. Safety advocates say they could make your car seat unsafe.

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In 2018, North Dakota mom Hannah McKinney Pope warned on social media that her two-month-old daughter Robin was injured in a car accident when her sheepskin seatbelt cover slid against her shirt and she flew out of her car seat.

Safety advocates warn that added accessories can compromise the way a seat is designed to protect the child.

"Things like headrests, footrests, a support pillow, shoulder pads, or harness covers, those are no-nos," said Leah Rocketto, associate commerce director for parenting brand and site What to Expect. "It’s creating gaps that could decrease the protection in the instance of a crash."

Some car seat manufacturers even post warnings, saying accessories can void the warranty.

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"The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, they’re the ones that are testing car seats and making sure all car seats sold in the U.S. are meeting their standards.  These third-party accessories aren't going through those tests," said Rocketto.

Experts say seat belt extenders are for adults, and not designed to work with child seats. Some parents add seat covers, which experts say can cause a child to slide in the seat, or use covers to shield their child from the sun and heat.

"Those actually pose more of a risk to your child and can lead to potential suffocation risk," said Rocketto.

Many parents give children toys to keep them occupied on road trips. But toys can become projectiles in an accident.  A 3-year-old girl in Spain died after her tablet hit her in the head in a 2018 accident.


Rocketto suggests soft plush toys instead, such as her daughter's plush purse.

"It has more plush items in it, and she’s at the age where she likes to sort toys and put things in place, so this will entertain her for at least half of a two-hour car ride," she said.

The American Academy of Pediatrics warns that bulky coats and outfits on a child can change the way a harness fits and to put blankets over a harness, not under it.

Parents can find free child seat inspections to make sure they're safe and properly installed through the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.