Remain Seated Please: A guide to keeping car seats buckled

Getting out of the car seat is a sort of right of passage for most toddlers.  Car seats can be uncomfortable and the kid is at an age where she wants to exert her independence.  What better way to combine those things than to wriggle out of her car seat straps while the family car is hurtling down the highway at 70mph!

This particular post focuses on seats designed for the younger set that use 5-point harnesses.  There will be another post dealing with seat belts in the future.

A serious problem

This is perhaps the most troubling of the long list of things that make a family road trip a sometimes harrowing experience.  Unlike inconvenient nature calls or fighting over who picked the last DVD, this one can truly be a matter of life-or-death.

Naturally, like many problems on the road, kids getting out of their car seats isn’t limited to long-distance travel.  If it doesn’t happen at least weekly driving around town with one of my kids, something’s wrong.

Generally around town I simply pull into a parking lot and wait it out.  I usually win after a few minutes, though sometimes it takes… longer.

Therefore, I tend to chalk this method up as impractical since a particularly stubborn child can easily turn an 8 hour drive into 12 hours of pure misery.

A lot of the other tips I’ve found are equally impractical if not downright delusional fantasy.  Stuff like entertain your child the entire trip, or just tell them they have to not screw with the straps.

Instead, I’m going to focus on actual technical solutions that may reduce successful escape attempts.

There are essentially three vectors of escape the little Houdinis exploit in their attempts to defy restraint.  There is the simple slipping through the straps, unbuckling the chest buckle and finally, unbuckling the bottom buckle. Maybe your kid is an overachiever and does all three at once.

Here’s how to tackle each one:

Slipping through the straps

This is the favored technique of my son. He’s a skinny lad, so he can slip right through no matter how tight the straps are.  Still in this case, properly securing the child is the most effective method of blocking this exploit.

This is the part where I recommend you break out the user guide for your seat and actually pay attention to what it says.

To summarize it should say something like make sure the straps are tightened sufficiently.  The straps should adjust at the shoulder, make sure they are adjusted even with the shoulders, not above or below. Finally, that chest buckle should be properly positioned.

This is the one that got me, I tended to leave it a little low, which provided enough wiggle room for the boy to work his arms out.  It’s harder to squeeze out if the buckle is positioned correctly, it should be fairly high on the torso.  This keeps the straps closer together.

A lot of times that buckle can easily be moved down by the kiddos.  Avoid the temptation to use a safety pin or something to keep it in place as that could weaken the strap causing it to fail in an accident.  That would be bad.

You could try using something wrapped around the inside of the buckle where the belt runs through to try to make it a little harder for small hands to move it. Since I’m not an engineer, do that one at your own risk.

Undoing the chest buckle

This method is for advanced escape artists foiled by a properly positioned clamp.  Some straps are easier than others for the kid to unbuckle. I found an interesting product designed to prevent kids from unbuckling their car seats.

It’s called Monkey Tyz and it’s a padded cover for the center buckle.  It has a clasp on the inside to prevent little hands from reaching in and taking it off.

The thing was designed by a mom who apparently got a little sick of deterring breakouts and actually came up with a pretty creative solution.

You can find out more details and purchase this clever device at

Releasing the bottom buckle

This one is perhaps the trickiest of them all.  The bottom buckle (located between the child’s legs) tends to be the most difficult for a little one to work.  Sadly, there also seems to be a lack of clever inventions to keep them away from it as well.

Some parents have found success turning that buckle around so that the button is facing the child instead of out.  Kids can’t squeeze in there, but parents can still get to the button to undo the latch.

Some car seat buckles are directional, so this won’t work in every seat, but it’s worth a try.

The only device I’ve seen is a product called Hands-Off. Hands-Off is essentially a bit of textured tape that is uncomfortable for children to push, but doesn’t bother adults.  Since seat belt buckles take some effort to push, a kid should be deterred from pushing the button.

I’m sure there are plenty of other clever ideas out there.  Do you have one? Why not leave a comment and share what you’ve done to keep your kids in their place on family road trips.


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