Keeping Our Babies Safe In Motion
Although I would love to stay at home all day with my baby, my life requires me to leave home on occasion.
Well actually, my son, Xander, and I usually have to venture out everyday. The one thing I can count on is that when I put Xander in his car seat I have done everything possible to make him safe on our journey. When I was pregnant, I went to register for my baby shower. What a confusing and overwhelming experience to say the least. You have the list of “necessities” and the little sensor gun. Of course, once you got started, the things like bedding, towels, and clothes were easy. You just picked the color scheme you wanted. Then, it was time to pick out the stroller and high chair. These items were also based on the look, color, and ease of setting up and taking down. Now, I was almost done. I had only the car seat left. I remember standing there in the aisle just staring. I had no idea what I needed. There were infant-only seats, toddler seats, convertible seats, and booster seats. There were instructions on them regarding forward facing and rear facing. Did they all fit in every car? Will my baby need the same seat or different seats? Was it based on age or weight? I had to stop and think a minute. I then decided to call a few friends who already have children. After those phone calls, I didn’t know if I felt any better. Each friend had a different brand and style. Each friend had different advice on why their seat was the best. I decided to start with the one that was made for the smallest baby. I chose an infant seat.
That seems like so long ago. I made a very good choice that day but I have definitely learned a lot since then. I have learned that the best seat for your child is the one that fits your child the best, is used properly, and is used every time you drive. The American Academy of Pediatrics has issued some basic guidelines for Car Seat Safety. There are as follows:
- Always use a car seat.
- Read the car seat manufacturer’s instructions and keep them with the car seat.
- Read your vehicle owner’s manual for important information on how to install the car seat correctly for your specific vehicle.
- The safest place for all children is in the back seat.
- Never place a child in a rear-facing car seat in the front seat of a vehicle with an active passenger airbag.
- The harness system holds your child in the car safety seat. The seat belt or lower anchors and tethers for children (LATCH) system hold the car seat in the car.
All of these may sound like common sense, but many children are unnecessarily injured in car accidents because car seats are used incorrectly or not at all. Children are improperly placed in them or are in a car seat not right for their size. Many safety experts believe that 80–90% of car seats are not installed and/or used properly.1 Nationally, motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for children ages 1 to 14 years. We can take steps to change these statistics.2
In my state, Illinois, the law requires that a child from birth to 8 years of age be transported in an appropriate child safety seat or booster seat when traveling in a vehicle. Children between the ages of 8 and 16 must be secured in a seatbelt.2
There are different types of seats for the different ages and weights your child will grow through. There are infant seats, which your baby should be in from birth until one year of age and 20 pounds. There are convertible safety seats, which should be used rear-facing prior to your child’s first birthday and until your child reaches 20 pounds. Some rear-facing seats may allow your child to remain rearfacing until 30 pounds. The convertible seat should be utilized forward-facing when your child weighs between 20 to 40 pounds and is at least one year old. Most forward-facing child seats have an upper weight limit of 40 pounds and should not be used if your child weighs more than 40 pounds. A belt-positioning booster seat should be utilized if your child weighs approximately 40 to 80 pounds. Some booster seats have upper weight limits of 100 pounds. These are general guidelines, so always check the weight and height limits for the seat that you purchase.2
If you are using a used car seat the American Academy of Pediatrics strongly suggests, be sure to keep a few things in mind. How old is your car seat? Check with the manufacturer for recommendations regarding how long a seat is usable.3 Most seats come with an expiration date. Most guidelines indicate a child safety seat should only be used for 6 years from its manufacture date.2 Has the car seat ever been in a crash? If so, it should not be used. Are there manufacturer labels with the seat name or model number? If not, you should not use it because you will not be able to keep current with recalls. Are there instructions with the car seat? If not, you need to get them from the manufacturer before you use the car seat. Don’t use if the frame has any cracks or is missing parts.3
Now, your next step is to learn how to use the seat you picked out. One of my biggest inspirations for writing this article is that I commonly hear mother’s talk about how excited they are to finally have their children forward facing now because they are twenty pounds. I am very concerned because these children have not reached the age of one year yet. Carefully read the instructions that came with the car seat and the owner’s manual for your specific vehicle when installing the car seat. Fill out and mail the owner’s card that came with the seat. This is how you will be notified if there is ever a safety recall on the seat. If you still have problems getting the child seat to fit properly in your vehicle, you can have your seat checked by a Certified Child Safety Seat Technician. Many police departments, fire departments, and hospitals have trained Technicians to assist in getting the seat installed properly. To locate a technician in your area, go to www.nhtsa.dot.gov and click on “Locate a Child Safety Seat Inspection Station” in the Child Passenger Safety section. You can also have your child seat installation checked at a local Car Seat Checkup Event. A list of events can be obtained on the Internet by conducting a search of “Car Seat Checkup Event [your state].” You can also find additional information on child seat safety and laws at the NHTSA website.2
The placement and fitting of the belts on your child in the seat is so important. Please read the manual of the seat and the car to determine where the belts go. The car seat harness should be adjusted so you can only slip one finger underneath the strap at your child’s chest. The harness retainer clip should be positioned across the chest at the armpit level.4 These guidelines are in place to keep your children safe. My frustration regarding the mothers who have turned their infants’ car seats forward too early, is that, although their children may weigh 20 pounds it does not mean they have the musculoskeletal system of a one-year old. The forward direction dramatically increases the probability of serious cervical spine fractures and neurological deficits.5 This is all the more reason to leave your infant rear facing as long as possible. Infants are not necessarily “little adults.” Their skulls are more fragile, their heads are proportionately larger, and their rib cage is thinner. Because they have small stature and their musculoskeletal system is not fully developed, they need the added protection of the car safety seats. According to the National Safety Belt Coalition, car seat restraints provide a “ride-down” benefit during rapid deceleration which works to allow the child’s body to stop as the vehicle is slowing, reducing the forces on the child’s body and preventing contact with hard surfaces inside the vehicle, with other occupants, the road, or other vehicles. They also act to spread crash forces over the broad area of the body, thereby reducing forces on any particular part of the body, and distributing these forces to the strongest parts of the skeleton such as the hips, back, and shoulders.1 Even our bigger children need special accommodations when riding in our cars. According to SafetyBeltSafe USA, young children who are placed in vehicle belts rather than booster seats are 59% more likely to suffer devastating injuries, including severe damage to the brain, liver, spleen, and spinal cord. Most children need to use a booster seat from about age 4 until at least age 8–10 for maximum protection and improved comfort in the car. Answer this 5-step test the next time you and your child ride together in the car to determine if he or she should still be in a booster seat.6