According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), a child under the age of 13 is involved in a crash every 33 seconds. Many injuries and deaths could be prevented if children were properly restrained.
Many parents and caregivers assume they know how to choose and use the correct child safety seat, yet three out of every four children are riding at an increased risk of injury because they are not properly secured. A 2015 NHTSA survey showed 13.6 percent of children from 1 to 3 years old were prematurely transitioned to booster seats and 37.4 percent of children ages 4 to 7 were either restrained by seat belts or unrestrained. Additionally, most tweens (8 to 12 year-olds) seriously injured or killed in crashes were not wearing seat belts or were wearing them incorrectly.
Some of the most common reasons car seats and booster seats are improperly used are due to:
Ignoring the manufacturer’s instructions for installation.
Forgetting to read the car owner’s manual to determine the safest place to install the seat in the car.
Installing the seat too loosely. There should be no wiggle room after the seat is in place.
Leaving the harness straps too loose. Straps should fit snuggly around the child. The harness retainer clip, which snaps the vertical and horizontal straps together, should be at the same levels as the child’s armpits.
Failing to use all of the harnesses to secure the child into position. A 3-point harness system has two straps at the shoulder and one between the legs. A 5-point system has two straps at the shoulder, two at the hips, and one between the legs.
The following are NHTSA’s recommendations for child passengers.
Birth to 12 months
Children under one must always ride in a rear-facing seat. There are two types of rear-facing seats: infant-only, or “carrier,” seats and convertible seats that can be set up to face rear or forward, depending on the child’s age.
1 to 3 years of age
Toddlers should remain in rear-facing seats until reaching the maximum height and weight of their seats. Research shows that rear-facing toddlers are 500 percent less likely to sustain severe spinal cord damage in crashes.
4 to 7 years of age
Children ages 4 to 7 should remain in their forward-facing car seat with a harness until they reach the height or weight limits allowed by the car seat’s manufacturer.
8 to 12 years of age
Children ages 8 to 12 should remain in a booster seat until the seat belt fits them correctly, with the lap portion low on their hips and touching the top of their thighs and the shoulder belt passing through the center of their shoulder. This typically happens for children around 4’9” in height.
Once a child is tall enough to no longer need a booster seat, he or she should continue to use a lap and shoulder belt at all times in the vehicle. All children should remain in the back seat, as air bags can pose a potential risk for injury in children under age 13.
Even still, many parents wonder what car seat is the “safest.” The answer is – the one that fits your child, your vehicle, and that you can use correctly. Parents and caregivers can increase their understanding about child passenger safety during National Child Passenger Safety Week (September 17 through 23). Many communities will be offering free car seat checks by a certified technician. To find an event near you, visit www.safercar.gov/parents. Additional information on how to register a car seat for recalls is also available.
I encourage my readers to spread the word about the importance of using proper safety seats by sharing this blog on social media.