Why do adults make errors when installing and using car seats?

Improving correct use of child restraint systems


Despite laws in all 50 states requiring child restraint use, many children still are injured in motor vehicle crashes. One possible explanation for this is the large number of child passengers who are riding unrestrained in vehicles, are improperly placed in child restraint systems (CRS), or prematurely graduated to adult vehicle seat belts.

Westat helped the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) address this problem by conducting a study to identify factors that contribute to errors in

  • Selecting and installing a CRS
  • Properly securing a child in a CRS

The research included both novice and experienced parents and caregivers. The study enabled NHTSA to target efforts toward reducing/removing error-prone factors related to installing and using a CRS through improved product literature and educating the public.


We developed a sampling plan that included adults who routinely or occasionally install child seats and drive with young children in their vehicles.

Our research design identified errors caregivers make when choosing a CRS based on a child’s height, weight, and age; installing the selected CRS in various vehicle types; and securing a child in the CRS. We used scaled, life-like dolls, a series of CRS types, and a variety of motor vehicles to test users’ abilities and judgment.

The research design enabled us to evaluate the factors that may contribute to the various types of installation and usage errors. These include child seat and vehicle design, caregiver experience, confidence in installation, use of instructions, and CRS familiarity.


The research results provided insight into the causes of errors related to selecting, installing, and using a CRS among both novice and experienced users.

This information supports NHTSA’s efforts to work with manufacturers, advocacy organizations, and the traveling public to increase the safety of child passengers in moving vehicles.

Read the latest report: Evaluation of Correct Child Restraint System Installation


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