Car crashes are the leading cause of death in children 1 to 13 years old, but many of those deaths are preventable. One way to help reduce the risk is to properly restrain children every time you drive.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) estimates that three out of four parents do not properly use child restraints. Despite those estimates, research also shows that child seat use does save lives. Research on the effectiveness of child safety seats finds that they reduce fatal injury in passenger cars by up to 71 percent for infants under 1 year old and 59 percent for children 1 to 4 years old.
Sept. 14 to 20 is National Child Passenger Safety Week, an opportunity to raise awareness of the importance of using and installing child safety seats correctly. The NHTSA estimates that restraint use saved the lives of 263 children under the age of 5 in passenger vehicles in 2011.
The first step is to choose the correct seat for your child’s age and size. By law, infants must ride in a rear-facing seat until at least 1 year old and 20 pounds. But research shows that children are better protected the longer they can remain facing rear. The current recommendation by Consumer Reports and other safety organizations is to keep children rear-facing up to 2 years old. This recommendation is echoed by child seat manufacturers in the many seat designs on the market build to keep children facing rear longer.
Once a child nears the 2-year-old mark and outgrows the rear-facing capability of their seat, he/she can be moved to a forward-facing seat. A child should be in a forward-facing seat with a harness until he reaches the height or weight limits of the seat typically, from 40 to 65 pounds and 50 inches.
Next children should ride in a booster seat until the vehicle safety belts fit properly, which means the lap belt lies across the upper thighs, and the shoulder belt lies midway across the shoulder and chest (not against the child’s neck or off of the shoulder on her arm), the child comfortably sits against the seat back with his/her knees bend at the seat edge, and last but not least, he/she can remain like this for the entire trip. That usually is between 8 and 12 years old, when the child is about 4 feet, 9 inches tall, but it varies for each child. All children under age 13 should ride in the back seat.
After choosing the right seat, the last step is proper installation. One way to ensure that your seat is installed correctly is to have your car seat inspected by certified technicians. To find an inspection station near you, look to seatcheck.org or on the NHTSA website. Saturday Sept. 20 is also National Seat Check Saturday, when inspection events will be held nationwide. It is a great opportunity to have your car seats checked to ensure they are properly installed.