We’ve all been there. Parents post a cute picture of their cute baby on Instagram in her car seat and the Chest Clip Brigade starts in with murmurs of, “Gently, mama, her chest clip needs to be 3mm higher on her chest or your baby will die in an accident. Don’t you love your baby?”
We’re sure many of you are wondering, is that true? How important IS that chest clip? What happens if I mess it up? Am I going to hurt my baby?
CSFTL would like to address some common myths surrounding retainer (chest) clips!
Myth #1. “The chest clip is important because it keeps your baby in the harness in a crash!”
The chest clip is a pre-crash positioner. It doesn’t hold baby in. The properly tensioned and placed harness does that in concert with the buckle between the legs. The chest clip’s job is to make sure the shoulder straps are where they’re supposed to be, prior to a crash. In fact, in the event of an accident, the chest clip will often open and move down the harness of its own accord, all without injuring baby.
Myth #2. “It’s illegal to use a car seat without a chest clip.”
FMVSS 213 and CMVSS 213, the respective United States and Canadian standards for child restraint manufacturers, do NOT require the use of a chest clip. However, chest clips have become so ubiquitous that manufacturers include them on their seats as a matter of course, because they believe parents might not buy seats without (falsely believing they’re less safe).
Myth #3. “Chest clips are dangerous! That’s why European car seats don’t have them!”
European standards require that child restraints be able to be released with a single motion, so chest clips are de facto illegal, not because they’re dangerous but because releasing a child from a harness with a chest clip requires the caregiver to unbuckle both the buckle and the clip. European seats use other methods to position the harness correctly. Often this involves large, rigid covers on the harness with a grippy backing that keep the harness from shifting. Australian standards also do not expressly disallow a chest clip, but car seat manufacturers down under, like European ones, do not habitually use a chest clip to keep the harness in position. There is no reason American and Canadian seats couldn’t use these methods, but, see Myth #2.
Myth #4. “If your child’s chest clip is too low, it could kill your baby by puncturing his organs!”
This outcome, while not completely impossible, is statistically nearly so. There is no documented case of a child being “punctured” by a chest clip. Really, if such a gruesome injury happened, it’s unlikely the accident was survivable to begin with. The REAL danger of a too low clip is that it might allow the harness to be too widely spaced at the shoulders. This could lead to increased head excursion, spinal, internal, and brain injuries, or even ejection from the car seat. So, yes, a too-low chest clip isn’t safe, but not for the reasons many seem to think.
Myth #5. “If your child’s chest clip is too high, it could strangle your baby in a crash!”
Again, this just isn’t how chest clips work. As mentioned above, they are likely to separate and move down in a crash anyway. Having the chest clip too high could potentially lead to uncomfortable bruising on the throat and again, wouldn’t quite space the harness correctly (although being closer to the neck is far less problematic than falling off the shoulders).
Myth #6. “The chest clip isn’t legally required, so I’ll skip fastening it.”
Just because a functional part of a restraint isn’t required by FMVSS 213, doesn’t mean you don’t need to use it according to manufacturer’s directions. FMVSS 213 governs the minimum standards for design and restraint. The manufacturers choose how they will meet the standards. If the manufacturer says the chest clip must be fastened, that means the chest clip is required to meet the crash testing standards set forth federally.
Myth #7. “A fastened chest clip is enough for a short drive; I don’t need to fasten the crotch buckle.”
The chest clip is NOT a restraint system! It cannot physically hold a child in the event of a crash. The crotch buckle does the hard work. If you are in a crash where the chest clip is fastened and the crotch buckle is undone, the chest clip will separate, your child can be ejected and possibly severely injured or even killed. ALWAYS follow the manufacturer’s instructions for correctly restraining your child.
Getting it Right
Many parents hear from the time their Little is born that the chest clip must be on the nipples/at the armpits/on the sternum, or any other guiding part of the body so it’s placed properly. These are good landmarks to use with a newborn, as the chest clip will usually hit the nipples and armpits and sit on the sternum all at once. As the Little gets bigger, though, there is leeway. The chest clip should be on the sternum still, but that bone is now several inches long. The armpits and nipples are in the general vicinity. There is usually not a concern of a few millimeters or even a couple of centimeters difference in chest clip height on a larger child who has a larger sternum. As long as the chest clip is used, and used according to the manual in conjunction with the rest of the harness, the child should be restrained appropriately, safely, and comfortably in their car seat.