The safest possible ride home

It’s one of the most memorable moments in life, bringing a newborn home from the hospital. But a new study suggests that moment might be fraught with peril.

The study, presented Monday at the American Academy of Pediatrics National Conference & Exhibition in San Diego, found that 93 percent of parents making that trip home from the hospital made at least one major error when it came to installing the infant’s car seat, or in securing the infant in the seat.

“Car safety seats can be difficult to use correctly for many families, and we need to provide the resources and services they need to help ensure the safest possible travel for newborns and all children,” Dr. Benjamin Hoffman, lead author of the study and professor of pediatrics at Oregon Health and Science University Hospital, said in a statement.

The study examined 267 families leaving the hospital. A certified child passenger safety technician inspected the seats and looked for errors.

In terms of securing the baby in the seat, the most common errors were a too-loose harness, putting the retainer clip too low, use of an after-market product not approved with the seat, putting the harness too high and a caregiver who didn’t know how to adjust the harness.

The most common problems in installing the seat were installing it too loosely, installing at an incorrect angle, using a safety belt but not locking it, and incorrect spacing between the car seat and the vehicle front seat.

University Health System’s Child Health and Safety Awareness program has provided thousands of car seats to families who delivered their babies at University Hospital, and teaches families how to install them. The program’s director, Susan Douglass, was not surprised by the study’s poor numbers.

“We rarely find a car seat that’s been installed correctly,” Douglass said. “It is complicated for parents to install them correctly. It’s not easy.”

Douglass said given the complexity, it’s always better for families to get help from a technician. Her program offers that service at a cost of $25 per car. The funds go to providing car seats to families that can’t afford them.

The study found that families who work with a certified car seat technician prior to the child’s birth were 13 times more likely to position their baby correctly and install the seat correctly.