The sad reality is that our roads are dangerous places. We all know this to be true. We all have either personally or know of a loved one or friend who has experienced a harrowing experience on the road. A car accident can be devastating to our health, well-being, and financial livelihood.
But we must always remember that it is not only adults on our streets. There are approximately 49 million kids in the United States from ages 0 to 11. Needless to say, they too are regular passengers on our roads and highways. And like in so many other domains of life, a younger person is especially vulnerable if the correct action is not taken to ensure their safety.
This article is meant to help shed light on one of the most important things parents can do to ensure that their child is safe while in a car. A well designed, well-manufactured, and properly installed car seat could mean the difference between serious injury or death and your child coming out unscathed in the event of an accident. We must become more well-versed in the facts of child safety. And a focus on car seats is meant to provide some of this critical information to help keep your child safe.
Car Crash Basics
Motor vehicle crashes are one of the leading causes of death for children in the United States. In 2020 alone, 607 child passengers were killed in motor vehicle accidents and more than 63,000 were injured. Of the kids killed, 38% did not buckle up.
Statistics indicate that car seat usage reduces the risk of injury in crashes by 71%-82% for children when compared with kids not in a car seat and only using a seat belt. Car seat safety is incredibly important to keep your child safe.
But in order to help bring these numbers down, it is imperative that adults and caregivers consult well-reputed sources on car seat safety.
Car Seat Safety Tips
Much of the discussion about car seat safety revolves around a child’s age. What may be suitable for a newborn or a one year old child will likely not be appropriate for an older child. Remember that there are different types of car seats which are meant for kids of different ages, different weight, and various heights. Be sure to follow NHTSA’s guidelines to determine the right car seat for your child.
Between the ages of 0 and 2, parents should be sure that their child is buckled up in a rear-facing car seat. They should be buckled with a harness in the back seat, NOT the front seat! The back seat is the safest place for them–failure to put them into a rear-facing car seat in the back could result in serious injury or death. Infants and toddlers should be strapped in with a harness. Be sure the harness straps are secure and in place. And be sure to consult the car seat manufacturer’s instructions and manual. The instruction manual will provide very important information about weight and height limits.
Young children (and especially newborns and toddlers) are at higher risk of injury in the event of a motor vehicle accident. Not only are their spines developing, but a child’s head is larger than his/her body. If they are forward facing they simply won’t be shielded enough against the force of a collision.
After your child outgrows his/her rear-facing car seat, use a forward-facing car seat until at least age 5. They should still be buckled with a harness and top tether in the BACK SEAT. They should remain in this forward-facing seat until they exceed the recommended weight limit and height limits provided by the manufacturer. Parents actually have the option to purchase an all-in-one seat that can change from a rear-facing seat to a forward-facing seat. If you choose to purchase an all-in-one car seat, make sure you understand well how it should be installed. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) also has some wonderful information on choosing the right car seat.
All About Booster Seats
After using a forward-facing car seat, the child should be placed in a booster seat. They will use a booster seat until the seat belt fits them properly. According to the CDC, a “seat belt fits properly when the lap belt is across the upper thighs (not the stomach) and the shoulder belt is across the center of the shoulder and chest (not across the neck or face, and not off the shoulder). This usually occurs when children are between 9 and 12 years old.”
The CDC also wants you to know that a “seat belt fit can vary by vehicle, so check seat belt fit in all vehicles where the child will ride to make sure the child no longer needs to use a booster seat. Sometimes a child might need a booster seat in one vehicle but not in a different vehicle.”
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children less than 4’9” tall ride in a booster seat.
Remember that with many different types of car seats out there, taking the time to study your options and choosing the right car seat/booster seat for your child is incredibly important.
When You Don’t Need A Booster Seat
When the seat belt finally fits without a booster seat, then your child can sit in the back seat without a belt-positioning booster seat. But be sure they always buckle up!
Typically, a child won’t need a booster anymore once the child reaches an age between 9 and 12. And just to reiterate, per the CDC, a “seat belt fits properly when the lap belt is across the upper thighs (not the stomach) and the shoulder belt is across the center of the shoulder and chest (not across the neck or face, and not off the shoulder).”
Even after your child is able to use a seatbelt alone without a booster seat, a child under the age of 12 should never sit in the front seat. While airbags are there to protect us, an airbag can also cause significant damage to a young person. Airbags deploy very rapidly which can result in serious or even fatal injuries to a child. This only reaffirms the importance of placing your child (even when they outgrow a car seat/booster seat) in the back seat. Many sources indicate that the back seat is definitely safer than having a child sit in the front seat.
Importance of Installing a Car Seat Properly
It can’t be emphasized enough that even if you purchase the right car seat for your child that suits his/her needs, it won’t mean much if the child safety seat is not properly installed in your vehicle. You should not be able to move it more than 1 inch side to side. This might seem like a negligible task, but it’s not. One has to consider an array of factors like whether the harness straps are over the child’s shoulders, the vehicle seat that the car seat will be placed on, the quality of the harnesses and tethers, as well as a number of other things to consider.
That being said, be sure to consult the instructions provided by the car seat manufacturer as well as your vehicle owner’s manual. Installing a child’s car seat can be tricky, so spend the necessary amount of time in order to make sure it is secure in your car. For example, you will need to decide on using either the seat belt or lower anchors to secure your car seat.
But even if you are confident that you have installed it properly, it would be wise to seek help. Consider working with a certified child passenger safety technician who can go over your work. For more on finding a certified child passenger safety technician near you see this link.
Perhaps consider visiting a car seat inspection station. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration provides some very valuable resources on installation, as well as finding those who can help you.
Remember that you need to be aware of your own vehicle and its specifications as well. One seat might be a good option for one kind of motor vehicle, but less suitable for another kind of car. Be sure to consult your vehicle owner’s manual to see how they recommend installing and choosing a car seat.