Motor Vehicle Crashes are the #1 cause of death for children and adults, age groups 1 to 34. Selecting a safe vehicle and properly using child restraints and seat belts may be the most important things you can do to protect your family. More than 80% of car seats are installed or used incorrectly. Here are some things you can do to keep your precious cargo as safe as possible in the car.
Rear face your child until the limits of their convertible seat
Most convertible seats allow you to switch your child forward facing at 1 year and 20 pounds. It is 500% safer to leave your child rear facing at age 1. To put it bluntly, the longer your child is rear-facing (meaning, faces the back of the car), the better. The reasons for this are quite simple, yet also very profound, and are based on an understanding of basic physics as well as an understanding of how the skeletal structure of a child develops.
When your child is rear facing, he or she receives the maximum amount of protection available. In a crash, rather than your child's spinal column taking the crash forces, the child's seat absorbs them. The younger a child is, the larger the skull is in proportion to the rest of the child's body. This means that in a crash, the very large head can cause the spinal column to separate. Children under age two are five times (that's 500%!) more likely to be killed in a side impact crash when forward facing. The vertebrae of a young child is still in three pieces until 3-6 years of age; it simply cannot withstand the extreme force exerted when forward facing, even at a low speed crash.
You may think your child’s legs looks uncomfortable when rear facing. Most kids will sit criss cross when they are on the floor. Children can bend their legs, put them on the seat or sit criss cross. In Sweden they make rear facing seats that can hold a child until 5-6. Not surprisingly they have a low death rate for children in cars. My 3.5 year old sits very comfortably rear facing. It is kind of like having an ottoman available when you are sitting on a couch. Most convertible car seats now allow you to rear face until at least 35 pounds. There are a handful of convertible car seats that allow rear facing until 40-45 pounds. You can rear face your child until they hit the weight limits of their seat or until their head is within 1 inch from the top of the hard shell of the seat.
Install your seat and your child tightly
There is no safety difference between installing with a seat belt or installing with latch. You must use one or the other not both. When installed a car seat cannot move more than 1 inch side to side at the belt path. When installed forward facing you should use a tether using top anchors behind the seat. You must lock the vehicle seat. Most newer cars have locking seat belts but you can use a locking clip if your car does not having belts that can be locked. You should not be able to pinch more your child’s straps at their shoulders. Your child cannot wear bulky winter coats in the car seat. If you must loosen the harness to fit the child their coat is too bulky. You can use thin fleece, use blankets or put their coat on backwards over the harness. The chest clip must be at armpit level and no lower. Having it lower puts your child internal organs at risk in a crash.
|Car seat ponchos can be used in place of bulky coats|
Do not put your child in a booster before they are ready
The absolute minimum for booster use is 4 years of age and 40 pounds, but many kids aren't truly ready to switch until they are five or six! Dangers to younger booster riders include being out of position at the time of a crash, head injuries, and submarining -- that is to say, sliding under the belt, allowing it to crush internal organs, perforate bowels, and potentially even sever the spinal cord. A child must be able to remain in position for the duration of the car ride and not lean out of position to play with siblings or pick up toys. They must also be able to stay in position when sleeping. Most kids do not have the maturity to ride in a booster until around 5. When you do opt for a booster start your child out in a high back booster that offers side impact protection and proper belt positioning for a younger child. The belt must ride low on your child’s hips and not on their belly and the shoulder belt should fit across their shoulders and not be by their neck.
Is your child ready to be out of the booster?
Most states allow children to be out of a booster sometime before 8. Most kids are not big enough to fit in an adult belt at this time. To know if your child is ready for an adult seat belt they must pass the 5 step test which they will probably pass around 4’9” or around 10-12
Taking the 5-Step Test is quick and simple. Have the child buckle up in the vehicle and then answer these 5 questions:
1. Does the child sit all the way back on the vehicle seat?
2. Are knees bent comfortably at the edge of the vehicle seat?
3. Does seatbelt cross the shoulder properly? (it should be centered over the collar bone)
4. Is the lap portion of the seatbelt low – touching the thighs?
5. Can the child stay seated this way for the entire ride, every ride (awake and asleep)?
Bonus step – feet planted firmly on floor so they don’t lean forward to try to do so.
Car seats have expiration dates and buying used seats
Most car seats have expiration dates within 6-8 years of when they are manufactured. Check the manufacture date of your seat and how long they are good for. Plastic degrades over time and the harness might not perform the same after years of use. You should never buy a used seat from an unknown source. You don’t know if it has been in a accident even minor or if the straps where washed or submerged in water which is not allowed. If you do use a used seat you must be able to trust the source and know the seats history.
Put your child in the back seat when possible
Most car accidents especially bad ones have impact or intrusion to the front passengers. Children’s bones are not as mature as adults so whenever there are back seats available have your children sit in the back seat.