Center for Injury Research and Prevention

The Challenges of Child Seat Installations

August 19, 2013

Moderator’s Note: This post was authored by Jessica Mirman, PhD, an Applied Developmental Psychologist and Scientist and former member of the CIRP Teen Driver Safety Research team. While at CIRP, Dr. Mirman studied how interactions with parents and peers affect the development of children's health behaviors in two domains: injury/safety and health management. One area of focus was the development and evaluation of TeenDrivingPlan. As of July 2016, Dr. Mirman has left CIRP@CHOP to continue her career elsewhere.

Child restraint system (CRS) misuse is a common occurrence that remains a challenge for the child passenger safety community and caregivers. Particularly alarming is that although recent estimates of CRS misuse are as high as 72 percent, other research has found that 90 percent of caregivers are confident or very confident in their installation of a CRS. As a parent, I know that installing a CRS in a motor vehicle is not without its challenges. As a researcher, I’m interested in exploring the behavioral aspects of why misuse occurs. In research published in Injury Prevention this month, my CIRP@CHOP colleagues and I investigated caregivers’ confidence in one-time CRS installations with interesting results.

Of the 75 experienced caregivers that participated in our study, 30 percent installed the CRS incorrectly yet reported confidence that the installation was correct. In attempting to understand why this occurred, we asked the participants about their prior use of child passenger safety resources such as websites, brochures, primary care physicians, and talking with a friend or relative. We found that the greater the quantity of resources they were exposed to, the less confidence they had in their CRS installation. This might suggest that the more caregivers learn about child passenger safety, the more they see it as complicated, difficult, and intimidating-- or that less confident caregivers might be more motivated to seek out resources. Future research will explore the direction of effects as well as the quality of these resources.

Although there are various potential barriers to correctly installing a CRS, this study adds to the conversation an additional one: that parents can't always identify when a CRS system is installed incorrectly. Future research is needed to better understand how and why certain errors are made during installation so simpler instructions and education can be provided and potential engineering solutions investigated. These can include vehicle manufacturers offering integrated child safety seats or child safety seat manufacturers providing mechanisms for clearly alerting parents about security and accuracy errors during installation.

In the interim, child passenger safety technicians do an incredible job of educating parents and caregivers. The child passenger safety community should consider creative ways to continue to provide families with the support they need to avoid common installation errors. Encourage parents to seek extra help, such as visiting a child passenger safety inspection station or watching installation videos, in addition to reading the car seat and vehicle manuals. CHOP has created a checklist of common CRS installation mistakes for parents to check for- click here to view and share this important information.

My CIRP@CHOP colleague Mark Zonfrillo blogged earlier this year about the state of CRS misuse. For more information on Child Passenger Safety research at CIRP, including other research into CRS misuse, click here.


Decina LE, Lococo KH. Misuse of Child Restraints. Washington, DC: Office of Research and Technology, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration; 2004.

US Department of Transportation NHTSA. Child Car Safety. In: US Department of Transportation NHTSA, Washington, DC: US Department of Transportation, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 2012.

**Like what you’ve read? Subscribe to Research in Action to have the latest in child injury prevention delivered to your inbox.**