Thursday, December 31, 2009

Car Seat Safety

Yes you read that right, and yes I admit that it seems like an odd post to finish this year out, but it is something that has been on my mind lately.  I run into a lot of parents that don't seem to understand how car seats work, then I hear statistics about how many children die or are injured in car accidents because their seat was not installed or used properly.  

This awesome site I found states this:
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, motor vehicle crashes are the #1 killer of kids in age groups 1-14.  Safe Kids USA says motor vehicle crashes are the #1 cause of unintentional injury-related death for all children 14 and under.  While some crashes are unsurvivable, over 57% of deaths for children 0-15 were because the child was unrestrained.  Many more were improperly restrained.  Nationally, the misuse rate for child safety seats is over 80% and as high as 95% in some areas.   The good news is that correct use of car seats and boosters does save lives.  Infant seats have been shown to reduce fatal injury by 71%, and toddler seats by 54%.

So I wanted to point out a few basic "rules" and also point you to some other places to get good information. 

One point to remember before we begin, is that just like seat belt laws car seat laws can vary from state to state, but I am going to try to present the most safe (and law abiding) guidelines.  If you have any doubts that your car seat is installed properly you can usually contact your sheriffs department and they will do a safety check.  Our hospital actually had someone that could check ours and we did that before our first child was born.  We learned lots of invaluable information from her.

With all that said here are few mistakes I see parents make:

1.  Turn their children from rear facing to forward facing too soon.  The basic rule is that a child must be AT LEAST one year of age AND 20 pounds in weight.  Not one or the other but both a year and 20 lbs.  But something most parents don't realize is that the safest way for your child (actually even adults) to ride in a vehicle is rear facing. Check out this site for lots of good information on extended rear-facing something I plan to do when are blessed with another baby.

2.  Using backless boosters before the child is ready.  I am talking about the little booster seats that basically just position the car seat belt.  They are very appealing since they can be moved from one vehicle to the next easily.  When I looked at one at the store it was not allowed for anyone under 4.  There are also height and weight regulations.  The child should meet the age and size requirements.  Keeping your child in a 5 point harness as long as they can is the best option.  Read the information that came with your car seat.  We purchased a convertible car seat that has a 5 point harness that can be used up to 65 pounds!  

3.  Using car seats that are too old.  Car Seats expire - You can usually find the expiration date on the back of the seat.  This is especially important when looking at borrowing one from a friend.  As the plastic ages it becomes more prone to cracks so it would be less protective in a crash.  Usually the seats have a 6 year usage before they expire.  The same can be said of car seats that have been in a crash.  Depending on the accident the seat may have sustained damages that will make it less able to keep your child safe.

4.  Leaving the retainer clip too low on the child in a 5 high point harness.  Keep the retainer clip at armpit level on the child. Only one finger should fit between the clip and your child's chest.  The straps should not drape over the child's shoulders.  I often see straps so loose the child could probably be pulled out.  I realize that tighter straps may not be as comfortable, but to me safety is more important.  Also if you keep the straps tighter they will eventually get used to it.

5.  Leaving the seat too loosely strapped to the vehicle.  Make sure the seat moves less than one inch when pulled at the base. When installing the seat, place your knee in the seat to add weight.  You really should not be able to wiggle the seat around when it is installed properly. 

6.  Allowing your child to wear winter coats in the car seat.  Most coats should not be worn in car seats as they reduce the effectiveness and can cause the child to overheat.  Great information can be found here.

7.  Also it is often recommended that the carrier bar on infant car seat/carriers be pushed down into the horizontal position while driving.  This is stated in most user manuals.  Just reread yours to be sure you are using your seat the way it was designed.  Some newer seats are fine either way.  In older seats the bar can crack when left up and cause injury. 

8.  I guess the biggest thing is just not reading the manual that came with your seat.  Each car seat has specific instructions.  So please read the users manual and don't assume it is the same as another seat you have.  If you have lost the manual most of them can be found online now.

Well I hope this leaves you ready to enter the new year with your children safely strapped in. :)

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