By Mathew Miller, Sharon Perkins

Car accidents are a fact of life. As a new dad, having a baby in the car with you or your partner can make that fact of life scarier. You can’t always prevent other drivers from driving badly or from running into your rear end at a stoplight. This is why a properly fitted, age-appropriate, approved car seat is absolutely essential.

Don’t ever hold a newborn in a moving vehicle — not in the front seat, the back seat, or anywhere else. Numerous studies have proven that you can’t hold on to an infant in an accident; the baby will fly out of your arms and straight out the front or side window into the street or will be tossed around the car like a rag doll.

Yes, this warning is meant to create a vivid picture that will scare you into never riding with your child in your arms. Babies die this way every year because they were taken out of the car seat to be fed or soothed for a moment. A moment is all it takes.

Following is essential car-safety information for your baby:

  • Put newborns and small infants in a car seat designed for their weight. Never put a newborn in a seat designed for an older child, or vice versa.

  • Never put infants and small children in the front seat, even if they’re in an approved car seat. The front seat is much more dangerous for your child if you’re in an accident. Put them in the back, no matter what.

  • Use rear-facing car seats for children up to age 2. Riding facing backward is safer in the event of a crash, and pediatricians now recommend keeping children rear facing to the weight limits of the seat they’re in. Children don’t mind riding backward, even at 2 or older, and you can place a mirror so you can see them.

  • Don’t use a car seat beyond its expiration date. Yes, car seats have expiration dates, usually found on a sticker on the side of the seat. The plastic can degrade over time, making the seat unstable in a crash.

  • Don’t reuse a car seat that has been in an accident. The car seat may have been weakened or damaged in the accident — even if it was a minor one — and may not perform as expected if you have another accident. It’s worth the extra money to get a new one.

  • Don’t borrow a car seat unless you know the expiration date and know it’s never been in an accident. Don’t take chances on a car seat that may be damaged in any way, even if it looks fine.

  • Read the instructions so you install the seat correctly. A huge percentage of car seats are found to be incorrectly installed when checked at car seat clinics.

  • Keep the car seat straps tight-fitting by taking your baby’s heavy coat off in the car. The straps need to fit tightly to her, not her jacket, to keep her in place in the event of an accident.

  • Don’t add after-market car seat covers, covers that zip over the car seat, head positioners, or any other added items that didn’t come with the car seat, no matter how cute they are or how well they match your car’s décor.

    The materials may not fit well enough to the seat to stay on in case of an accident, which could cause your baby to slide around and not be fully protected. The items also may not be flame-retardant.

  • Don’t carry dangerous loose items in the car, like shovels. They become missiles in an accident.

  • Always wear your own seat belt! It sets a good example and helps you maintain control of the car in an accident, not to mention keeps you from flying around the car, possibly landing on the baby.

If you get in an accident, check the baby carefully for bruises and cuts, especially if the car seat is dented or banged up at all. Remove the car seat from the car with the baby in it if you can so you can check for signs of injury without causing more injury to the infant’s neck or back.

Be assured that if your child is in a safe car seat, the chances of her getting injured in an accident are low. If you don’t think you can afford a car seat, talk to your medical provider or health department; some organizations offer help with money for car seats.