Choosing the right kind of car seat and installing it properly can be a big test for new moms. This is especially true if you're not ready to turn in your pickup truck for that minivan just yet. Now that you have toddlers and preschoolers, getting them into their seats without tantrums or whining may seem like your main goal, but safety should be the priority no matter what kind of vehicle you have. Pickup trucks can be a safe option for small children, but installing safety seats correctly is the key.
Small Pickup Trucks
The safest place in a vehicle for any child is the back seat. But many pickup trucks do not have full-size back seats, and that makes things tricky. According to Safety Belt USA, safety-seat manufacturers require that 80 to 100 percent of the car seat base be touching the vehicle seat. That means if you can see any of the car seat base hanging over the seat of your truck, it's probably not installed correctly or isn't the right size for your truck. Check your vehicle's manual for recommended seat placement. It is possible to use a car seat in the front of a small pickup, but you must turn off the passenger air bag.
If you're not sure about whether you've installed the car seat the right way, call your local AAA to find a certified child passenger safety technician in your area. You can take your truck in with the car seat -- but without your child until you're sure -- and they will let you know if you've got the right seat for your truck and if it's installed the right way.
Full-Sized Pickup Trucks
Full-sized pickup trucks with extended cabs usually have full back seats. If this is the case with your truck, you won't have the same challenges as owners of smaller pickups. Rear-facing car seats should be installed with the truck seat belts or LATCH system, and the safest place is in the middle in the back seat. If you use LATCH, take extra time to buckle unused seat belts to cut down on the risk of flying belts. Once your child is in a forward-facing car seat, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends using a top tether along with the seat belt or LATCH to make your child even more secure. Tethering the seat reduces the risk of your child’s head hitting the interior of the truck.
Pickups with Side-Facing Seats
Many smaller pickup trucks or extended-cab trucks don't have front-facing rear seats. Trucks like these, with side-facing or flip-up seats, may be fine for bringing home the groceries or taking the dog to the vet, but they are not the best choice for a car seat. Trucks with side-facing or flip-up seats may not have seat belts to secure a car seat. According to the AAA, the safest place for a child is in the middle of the back seat, and side-facing or flip-up seats don't give you that option.
Pickups and Air Bags
The AAP recommends turning off passenger air bags when kids are riding in the front seat of a car or truck. Many newer pickup trucks have switches that will turn off air bags. You should also move the front seat as far back as possible when children are in the front, according to the Illinois Department of Transportation. If your truck has air bags for the back seat in an extended cab, you should also turn off these air bags to prevent injury. If your pickup has no back seat and the air bags cannot be turned off, your children should not ride in the truck. It might be inconvenient, but you're better off choosing a new vehicle than putting your children at risk.