Three out of four car seats are installed incorrectly. That staggering statistic comes from AAA, and it could be one you're perpetuating.

Before you head out for a summer day trip with the kids in the back, make sure you're following the rules and laws, and not just what you think looks right.

According to AAA, child safety seats reduce the risk of injury by up to 82 percent, and the risk of death by 28 percent, compared to seat belts alone when involved in motor vehicle crashes, which are the leading cause of death and injury among children.

Lorrie Walker, who travels the country as training and technical advisor for Safe Kids Worldwide, says 50 to 100 percent of families are found to have made a "serious mistake" in the installation process when they show up at a car seat inspection event — many of which are scheduled throughout New Jersey all year long.

Five key areas are analyzed, she said, when determining whether a car seat is ready to be used, and a child/baby is ready to take a spin:

The right seat

The product you purchase should fall in line with the age, weight, height and developmental stage of your child.

"A car seat is not something that you grow into," Walker said. "You have to buy one that fits today, that you'll use today, and many of them have a nice, long range."

The basic models are rear-facing-only, convertible and 3-in-1. All work for a child younger than two, but the rear-facing-only model is more convenient due to its portability. A convertible seat can face forward or backward, and the 3-in-1 can also serve as a booster seat as the child ages.

The direction

A New Jersey law that took effect in 2015 states that any child under the age of 2 and 30 pounds must be secured in a rare-facing seat equipped with a five-point harness. Facing the back of the vehicle is also required for children under 4 years and 40 pounds, and under 8 years and 57 inches, until they reach the "upper limits of the rear-facing seat."

"Many car seats will keep a child rear-facing longer. The longer the better," Walker said. "It supports the head, neck and spine in any of the forward-facing crashes — the most common type of crash."

The location

Safety experts recommend that no children under 13 ride in the front seat.

As for the car seat's location in the back, Walker said you can choose whichever seat makes you more comfortable and provides the best fit. Sometimes that can be the middle, but not all vehicles allow for that.

"You want to put it where you can get it nice and tight, secured" she said.

Installation

Failing to properly secure the car seat is a common parental mistake, according to Walker. The securing seat belt may be buckled but not locked; essential straps may be too loose.

"You shouldn't be able to move your car seat more than one inch side to side or front to back when you're pulling it where the seat belt goes through," she said.

A car seat's manual is meant to instruct you on proper installation, but the manual is not always followed step by step, particularly by parents of more than one child.

"There's a lot of people out there, who have children, who think they know all that stuff, but they really don't," Walker said.

Car seat checks are held in every New Jersey county, typically on the same day(s) of each month. Look here to find a seat check by you.

Car seat checkpoints are staffed by child passenger safety certified technicians, according to the New Jersey Division of Highway Traffic Safety.

Parents are advised to purchase and install a seat three weeks before the baby's due date. Walker said you should go to a checkup with the car seat already installed so you can learn what was done wrong. It's not smart, she said, to have someone install it for you.

Harnessing the child

The seat is secure, but what about your child?

"The harness is designed to hold that baby snuggly against the back of the seat," Walker said.

You can test a child's security level with a "pinch test," she said. Try to pinch the harness webbing at the shoulders. If you can, the harness is too loose.

"You need to keep tightening it until your fingers just slide off and you can't pinch any excess webbing," she said.

Another note from Walker — stay away from mirrors on the back-seat headrest and accessories on the windows. They can't withstand crash forces, she said.

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Contact reporter Dino Flammia at dino.flammia@townsquaremedia.com.

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