A terrifying lesson in carseat safety

When we were pregnant with Zoe and purchasing our first infant carseat, we did our homework and bought a Britax – a brand well known for safety. After installing the carseat according to directions, we headed down to the fire house for an inspection to be sure we had it just right. And, after doing even more research along the way, we decided to leave Zoe rear-facing until at least age two (this has been found to be safer in many crash test studies and is recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics).

But none of that was enough to prevent an unexpected and terrifying carseat mishap recently that left this mom shaken to her core, my car damaged and my brand new toddler carseat destroyed. Thank God it happened after daycare dropoff so Zoe was not utterly traumatized, injured or far worse. This definitely ranks as one of the scariest things that I’ve ever experienced. So what happened?

Last Thursday, I dropped Zoe at daycare and headed to work. I was in light traffic going about 25 mph when I suddenly started  hearing a horrendous noise from the back right side of my car (where the carseat is) – a super-loud grinding/rubbing/screeching sound. I happened to be on the phone with my husband and he heard it, too. It lasted for more than a second, then ended with an even louder sound and feeling of impact: the whole car shook. Instantly I knew I’d been hit! I had looked behind me but did not see another car nearby – but I did a doubletake because my carseat was literally bending and torquing backwards, violently shaking as if some insane invisible force were being exerted on it. To say I freaked out would be an understatement.

I pulled over immediately, hyperventilating and scared. The car was driving fine, just like normal. Still on the call with me, E instructed me to walk around the outside of the car and determine the damage. We both thought someone had hit that back right panel of my car, yet I kept saying to him over and over “but what would cause the carseat to do that? It was like internal forces were working on it, not an external force like a car accident!” I’m pretty sure he thought I was crazy.

I walked around the car and there was no visible damage. I had not been hit. Then I cautiously opened the back passenger door to look at the carseat. It was bent, twisted and forced forward into the front passenger seat. My car’s seat underneath it was compressed and contorted at a ridiculous angle. It looked as if a 10,000 lb giant had sat in it and crushed it. What on earth could have done this? E started speculating that maybe my rear axle broke and flew up underneath the carseat, causing the damage. I was shaking and kept saying “Thank you, God. Thank you, God. Thank you, God” because what if Zoe had  been with me? What if it had happened on the way to daycare, instead of on the way from daycare to work? I was sick with fear and what ifs.

E told me to take pictures with my phone and send them to him right away so he could figure out what went wrong. He also told me not to drive my car more than absolutely necessary – very slowly to work and that’s it. I sent him pics of the carseat’s odd new position, and of the underneath of my car, and then I noticed one of the tethers on the back of the carseat (visible because we’re rear-facing, so it usually dangles off the back in plain view) looked as if it had been hacked or torn. I took a picture of that and sent it to E, too. Then I carefully drove the five minutes to my office.

No sooner had I parked when E called me back. “I know exactly what happened,” he said, and he sounded grim. He proceeded to remind me that the Versa-Tether (mentioned above – normally hangs from the top rear of the carseat) used to be quite long and hang down behind the carseat and constantly get in our way. I always knew I should roll it up and secure it somehow, but never did – just pushed it out of my way when it became an annoyance. This Versa-Tether, used for securing the carseat when used in a forward-facing position, had somehow fallen out of the car without me noticing. I remember scooping up Zoe and her backpack, juggling an umbrella and the car keys at daycare. Yes, it’s entirely possible that on that rainy gray morning, I didn’t see the long, black tether slip out of my car onto the ground.

Can you guess what happened next? I was blithely driving along, trailing the carseat tether behind me (still attached to the carseat), when it got caught in my right rear wheel and began to exert unbelievably powerful forces on the carseat itself, and on my car door where it had slipped through. The sounds I heard were the Versa-Tether being yanked by the wheel, the carseat being wrenched forward, and ultimately the strap ripping apart. The plastic on my car door melted from the heat of the friction. The paint there is worn away, and the force of the car pulling on that Versa-Tether exerted approximatley 6,000 lbs of pressure before breaking it. Insane. I can’t even begin to imagine my poor baby girl being in that seat when all of that happened. Again, thank you God.

I’m not blaming Britax for this – on the contrary, I take full responsibility for not winding up that extra, loose tether and securing it safely. I also take responsibility for not noticing when it slipped out of my car. But that said, I’ve not been able to find ANY safety or security warnings on any of my Britax literature, their website, or any other place online about this even being remotely possible. I get that this was a fluke, but I think people should be aware that it could happen! I’m hoping that my scary tale can be a cautionary lesson to other busy parents who are also juggling kids, keys, bags and umbrellas.

If you have that long dangling cord on your carseat, please roll it up and fasten it out of the way with a rubberband or hair tie or office clip. DON’T risk the possibility of it slipping out of your car door, sliding down onto the road, and potentially getting tangled up in moving vehicle parts.

I am very thankful this taught me a lesson without being a tragedy. Please pass this information on to other parents who may not be aware of this extra, important aspect of carseat safety.

 

About Lara K

Proud and loving mama. Lucky and devoted wife. Dog mom. Travel nut. Writer since birth. PR pro and social media maniac.

Comments

  1. Wow! This is great to know, thank you for sharing. How scary.. I am so glad your baby was safe and not in the car!!

    P.S. This is my first time commenting here and I LOVE this font and color! I want to keep writing just so I can see it.. ha! 🙂

    • larak says:

      Thanks, Samantha! I appreciate your visit and your comment. I love everything about this theme, too – Lindsey from Pretty Darn Cute Design gets all the credit.

  2. Kimmy says:

    Lara– you are a FABULOUS mamma! What a horrifying experience– but sharing it I’m sure will bring awareness to LOTS of parents and hopefully prevent it from happening to them.
    Am so glad that not only Zoe wasn’t in the seat at the time or hurt– but that YOU weren’t injured or hurt either. How very scary!
    Thank you for sharing! Love the website 🙂

  3. Karen says:

    Britax seats SHOULD be installed with the versa-tether when in the rear facing position. They are one of the only brands where this is the case – and it’s one of the reasons why they are top rated for safety. Tethering the seat prevents a great deal of “seat rebound” that happens in a crash. Here is a video on how to install the versa-tether with rear facing Britax. It’s really pretty easy- you just use the included “D-Ring” piece and hook it to the track that the front seat sits on (and rolls forward and backward on). Of course, you should wind up and store any excess strap. All of this info is also in the instruction manual. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zBfFGtUAtRg

    • larak says:

      Wow. Thank you so much for sharing that video! I don’t know how we missed this in the instruction manual – I will certainly be checking it again tonight. I’m thinking that after doing this we would still have extra strap, but it wouldn’t have been enough to dangle all the way back to the rear wheel. And yes, after I do this I will definitely be winding up and securing any excess strap. Thanks again for sharing this.

  4. Sarah says:

    Yikes, so scary. Thanks for sharing your lesson for others to learn from. I just bought 2 new britax frontier seats and the versa tether comes with an attached loop to make it easier for parents to coil up and store the strap. The older models came with a rubber band so this is an improvement.

    • larak says:

      Sarah, see the comment right above yours for a video on how to secure the Versa Tether even when rear-facing. I did not know about that and will definitely be doing that when I get home!

  5. Mel says:

    Oh my gosh! Thank you for sharing this! I almost did not read it because I, too, have a Britax and was so confident in the safety of the car seat and the care we took in installing it. I figured I could pass on what I learned to other moms looking for seats. I will make sure mine gets better secured! 🙂 I am so glad God was watching over your daughter that day.

  6. Charity says:

    I am the Online Marketing Manager for Britax. First of all, thank you for writing this post and warning other parents about what could happen if they do not ensure that any excess webbing (straps) are contained within their vehicle. We do not doubt for one second that this was a scary situation for you and we are very thankful to hear that your daughter was not in the car when this occurred. We do state in our car seat user guides that you should “secure the excess Versa-Tether webbing in the elastic strap during use. Store the Versa-Tether in the storage pouch when not in use. Always ensure any excess webbing is contained within your vehicle.” We understand that there is a lot of information in the user guide and it is possible to overlook these statements. With regards to our website, we will incorporate this on our FAQ page under the “Installation Questions” category. Also, know that it is possible to use the Versa-Tether when your child is rear facing as well as forward facing. Just be sure to check your vehicle owner’s manual to ensure that you are able to rear-face tether in your particular vehicle. Again, thank you for your post and helping to warn other parents.

    • larak says:

      Charity, thank you – it means a lot that you took the time to read my story and share this information. And you’re right, those carseat user guides are pretty comprehensive and it’s understandable that someone might not get every single thing right. I guess we thought we knew enough, but now I feel confident we know a lot more! Thank you for updating your website’s FAQ page, that would be great. I know I can’t be the only person who didn’t realize what an issue those trailing straps could become under the right, unusual circumstances.

      It’s also worth noting that despite the considerable damage to the carseat, the portions that would have held Zoe remained intact. The harness straps and body pads/cushions all held strong and did what they were supposed to do. She would have been shaken up for sure, and wrenched or jerked around, but I believe she would have survived thanks to the quality of Britax protection. That said, I’m just so glad she wasn’t in it that time.

      Thanks again.

    • Jamie says:

      This just happened to me today, and my son WAS in the seat–and I was on the freeway! It was terrifying, and thankfully my son is OK but the car seat is destroyed and my front passenger seat is also damaged. I DO place some blame on Britax because unlike the author of this blog, I DID secure the excess tether material and tuck it into the pocket provided, but it constantly falls out. I am constantly putting it back in, but the normal day to day activity of three kids getting in and out of the car frequently causes it to fall out and unravel. I did not notice that it had come out again or that it had slipped out the car door, and I think this is a serious safety hazard. I can buy a new car seat and repair my car, but I’m shaken about the fact that my son narrowly escaped serious injury or possibly even death, and since this strap never stays put with normal use, I think this is a dangerous design flaw.

      • Lauren says:

        The exact same thing happened to me this week. I found your blog by googling britax cord stuck in door. My daughter was in the car seat…luckily the car seat did was it was supposed to, and she was not injured. However, she was terribly shaken and scared. It scared me to death as well..I was certain I had been hit by a car. Her carseat was completed smashed up against the door and sideways. The force tried to rip her and the car seat out of the car. We are very lucky that she was no t injured and that I was not driving on the highway. We keep our excess cord tied up and in the pocket and it constantly falls out. That day, my daughter, who is 5 had gotten in by herself and shut the door. She had no idea it was hanging out, and neither did I. My car door is damaged and so is my car seat. While I know to wrap the cord up in the pocket, it doesn’t stay and also I don’t know why the cord has to be so long. If shorter, it would never get caught in the wheel during a situation like this in the first place. Glad everyone’s kids are safe. We have 5 Britax carseats, and I love them. However, this incident was terrifying.

        • Lara K says:

          Terrifying, Lauren – so sorry to hear it happened to you as well! I guess it’s just another thing that we parents need to be constantly watching for.

      • Lara K says:

        Scary, Jamie – but so glad are all okay!

  7. Tina says:

    We have a britax too – love love love it. When it was first installed, rear facing, we had it done by the local sheriff’s office to ensure that it was done properly. I’m very surprised to read that the fire house person who checked your seat didn’t help you set up the tether end of the anchor and store the excess. Sooo glad it didn’t turn into a bigger disaster! Leave her rear facing as long as you can, but be sure to turn her around if it becomes unsafe for her to be backwards. (our problem got to be l/o is super tall and it just wasn’t feasible anymore at some point right around 2yo.)

  8. Arnie says:

    Thank you for sharing this. I’m SO glad to hear your baby is safe. How scary. One thought I had while reading this, other than the obvious: Please don’t talk on the phone and drive at the same time. I don’t care if it is legal in your state or if you think you can do it safely. You cannot. Anyway, thanks again for sharing your message and thank you for listening to mine.

  9. Lindsay says:

    I am really sorry this happened. What troubles me is the fact that it made it past a fire dept inspection without them noticing that you did not have the “5 point harness” I totally understand you and your husband missing this imperative step in the instruction manual, because its an easy one to miss. I also have a Britax…and I actually questioned where my “5th” point of a harness was so I went searching on youtube to discover where that tether goes – and indeed, it is the 5th harness. I would call up that fire-station and at least inform them that they did an unsafe check – and did not have the knowledge of the tether.

  10. Shannon says:

    Wow! Such a scary experience! But thank goodness your little girl was safe! We actually just got our brand new Britax seat for our 9-month old daughter delivered yesterday. When reading the installation instructions, I saw that you could use the versa tether to anchor it rear-facing but wasn’t going to mess with it. I will be doing that right away! Do you have pictures you could share of what the seat looked like after it was damaged?
    Thanks for sharing your story!!

  11. Jeri says:

    I am very glad your daughter wasn’t in the car seat when this happened, and impressed Britax has responded. We have three Britax car seats in our family, bought because of their safey rating. I will pass your post on so others learn from your experience. I am curious though, if you shared your experience with the fire house so they know to check the tether as well?

  12. Sarah says:

    This happened to me TODAY. My boy, Henry WAS in the seat and it scared him to death. My seat did not get bent and turned like yours did. The red threads on the tether did get ripped. My question is: did you replace your carseat?

    • Lara K says:

      Yes, Sarah we definitely replaced the carseat. In our case, it was obvious – it was damaged beyond use. Even in your case, it sounds like it needs to be replaced due to the high forces exerted on the seat. It’s equivalent to an impact. So glad your Henry is okay!

  13. Sarah says:

    Yup, EXACT same thing happened to me tonight. All three kids in the back seat, rear facing toddler in the seat affected by the tether strap. Scared all of us to death ( I too was convinced we’d been hit). Everyone is okay but boy am I shaken up. Terrifying experience.

    • Lara K says:

      Yikes, Sarah – glad everyone is okay. I definitely think some more awareness needs to be drawn to the importance of securing those loose tethers on carseats!

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