Car seat safety tips to keep your child safe
You hope your child’s car safety seat will never see its intended purpose. Who wants to envision a horrible wreck involving your most prized possessions?
But your choice and proper use of these devices — according to age, weight and height — is critical for ensuring your children’s safety. Remember, the most life-threatening thing most people do almost daily is get behind the wheel of a car. Motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death among children between 3 and 14, according to the organization Safe Ride 4 Kids. In 2016, 723 children aged 12 and younger died and 128,000 were hurt in crashes across the U.S.
“Some parents and caregivers out there aren’t aware or don’t understand why certain car seat regulations are in place. A proper car seat can make a vital difference in a motor vehicle accident,” said Abigail Mostowy, EMT-B, Pediatric Emergency Care Coordinator (PECC) program coordinator. The PECC program is working with New York State EMS agencies to enhance pre-hospital care of pediatric patients.
Thirty-five percent of children who died in a motor-vehicle accident in 2016 were not restrained. New York State and federal law mandates proper child seat usage appropriate to the child’s age and size.
“EMS providers see improper usage or no usage every day. This can have a lasting effect on the providers,” Mostowy added. “In the United States, around 5,000 infants under the age of 1 are injured in auto crashes every year, some fatally. Research has shown that a properly installed car seat can dramatically reduce the risk of serious injury for a child in a crash.”
Here’s a basic car seat breakdown, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics:
Infants and Toddlers
Seat Type: Rear-facing only or rear-facing convertible (generally infants up to 22-35 pounds).
What to Know: Infants and toddlers must ride in a rear-facing seat with a five-point harness until reaching the height or weight limit permitted by the seat’s manufacturer. Most convertible seats are built to allow children to ride rear-facing for two years or more.
Why: Rear-facing seats provide the best support for a baby’s head, neck and spine during a crash.
Toddlers and Preschoolers
Seat Type: Convertible or forward-facing with a harness (generally children 36-90 pounds).
What to Know: Children that have outgrown a rear-facing convertible seat must use a forward-facing seat with a harness. These should be used as long as possible up to the weight and height limits established by the seat’s manufacturer.
Why: Children in this stage of development typically will no longer fit in a rear-facing seat. A forward-facing seat with a secure harness will provide the best support for their bodies in a crash.
Seat Type: Booster (children up to 4 feet 9 inches tall, generally between ages 8 and 12).
What to Know: Children that have outgrown their forward-facing car seats must sit in a belt-positioning booster seat. These should be used until the vehicle’s standard seatbelt fits securely around the lap, shoulder and chest without using a booster.
Why: The standard seatbelt shoulder strap must be positioned not to ride up on the child’s neck. A booster seat ensures proper placement of the strap.
Notably, Ardent Solutions performs regular car-seat safety fitting stations within Allegany, Cattaraugus and Chautauqua counties by certified technicians. The 2019 schedule will be (by appointment):
Allegany County: Third Tuesday every month in the afternoon at Ardent Solutions, 85 N. Main St., Wellsville.
Cattaraugus County: Fourth Monday every month in the morning at Bethany Lutheran Church, 6 Leo Moss Drive, Olean.
Chautauqua County: Third Saturday every month in the morning at the Westfield Police Station, 23 Elm St., Westfield.
Regardless of height and weight, all children younger than 13 should always sit in the back seat wearing a seatbelt. Experts say to place car seats and booster seats in the rear-middle, as it’s safest from side impacts. In vehicles that don’t have rear seats, never put a rear-facing device in a front passenger seat with an airbag. When a rear seat is not an option, as with many pickup trucks, secure the seat as far from the dashboard as possible and disable the airbag.
“Airbags can be fatal even to adults,” Mostowy said.
Most parents and caregivers do try to follow safety standards for their children. To make an informed decision, they research the best makes and models, read online reviews, talk to other parents and ask professionals. They read the instructions and attempt to install their car seat with tethers, straps, harnesses and anchors in the right places and safely secured.
In the end, how many use them correctly? Safe Ride 4 Kids estimates between 72 percent and 84 percent of child restraints are misused. More telling, roughly 96 percent of those parents believed they had acted correctly. Experts say most of these miscalculations involve the child’s age and weight, as well as loose safety belt attachments and harness straps.
“There are a lot of moving parts to installing and using a car seat. It’s understandable that some would get confused,” Mostowy said. “Straps can be misplaced according to the child’s height, and latches anchoring the car seat to the vehicle’s seat can be misused or unused. We’ve seen infants facing forward. And worse, we’ve seen children not secured at all.”
Parents and caregivers should not place their children wearing thick, puffy winter coats into car seats. Thick coats will compress in a crash and limit the effectiveness of the harnesses.
Also beware of recalled car seat models. Through the years, car seat designs have evolved as crash studies have shown the variety of serious injuries that can result from crashes under variable conditions. Manufacturers recall those that don’t meet the most modern safety requirements. For the most up-to-date list of recalls, visit the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration recall website (https://www-odi.nhtsa.dot.gov/recalls/childseat.cfm).
“It used to be common to hand down car seats for use from one child to the next, but that can be dangerous,” Mostowy cautioned, noting most car seats come with expiration dates about six years from the date of manufacture. “Older models are proven to become unsafe and prone to defects after years of repeated use and exposure to heat and cold.”
Parents and caregivers can also set an example for their child passengers by clicking their seatbelts themselves. Nearly 40 percent of children riding with unrestrained drivers also were not buckled in, according to Safe Ride 4 Kids.