Children, infants and older, can be the most vulnerable individuals in a car crash. That is why as a parent or grandparent, child safety seats and booster seats are two of the most important things you can purchase for your car.
Deborah Hersman and Traffic Safety
Former NTSB Chairman Deborah Hersman is passionate about having all young children sitting in properly installed child safety seats and booster seats. Before stepping down from the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), she and I had the great opportunity to discuss child safety seats and booster seats.
A leading safety advocate, Ms. Hersman provided guidance for the NTSB and the United States on what can be done to make our roads and highways safer. For her, child safety seats are important because they are designed for those individuals who can’t speak for themselves, our children.
The fantastic news is that in her lifetime we have seen tremendous positive change on attitudes about child safety seats. Ms. Hersman discusses briefly about her childhood and sitting in the back seat, without wearing a seat belt, and how that evolution changed because of expectations on military bases where her father was stationed, and now from her understanding of why it is important for everyone to always wear a seat belt. Because of that knowledge, her children were required to sit in child safety seats and then booster seats.
Finding and Using the Right Safety Seat
When buying a child safety seat, parents have a lot of great choices and that’s important because families have different needs. Whether the child is large or small, has physical issues, or the family has multiple children, there are options available. But with those choices comes responsibility.
As a parent, you need to purchase the right seat and then recognize that your child will grow. Just like buying new shoes for your kids, your child will grow out of the seat. It is important to start with a rear-facing seat because that seat will provide the most protection possible for a newborn or infant, and then keep her or him in that rear-facing seat for as long as possible. Then it is onto a forward facing seat. Each step along the way, making sure that the seat fits properly and provides appropriate protection.
Booster Seats are the Next Phase
Once a child grows out of a child safety seat, a parent’s reasonability doesn’t end. At that point, it is time for a booster seat. Booster seats allow children to use seat belts that are designed for adults. The lap belt of a seats belt is supposed to go across the hipbone and shoulder strap across the sternum. But for young children, without that booster seat, the straps can go across the stomach or the neck, which are areas that can create significant harm if in a crash.
A child should not be using a seat belt until she or he is at the right height. Even though many states use age as a determining factor, it is the child’s height that should be determined before moving to seat belts. A parent should examine the length of the child’s femur and determine if the child can sit with his or her back against the car seat and have her or his knees bend comfortably. If the knees don’t break over the seat easily, then the child will slouch, which defeats the whole purpose of a seat belt. Typically, a child should be 57 inches tall. The issue is that most children don’t get to a sufficient height until around age 11, which is beyond the age most states require for booster seat. This is again, where a parent’s responsibility comes into play; keeping your child safe beyond what the law requires.
Is Your Child Safety Seat Installed Correctly?
Buying the child safety seat or booster seat is not the only obligation for a parent—it is also making sure the seat is installed correctly, and that can be challenging. As Ms. Hersman notes, when installing a child seat for one of her children, she and her husband read and followed the instructions. Afterwards, they were confident the seat was installed correctly. While at the NTSB, she became a certified technician to install child safety seats and after two days at the weeklong training, she went home and took the seat out because she learned it was not installed correctly. Even well meaning parents can get it wrong. For her, it highlighted the necessity of having parents allow an expert to examine a child’s seat and determine if the installation is correct. The best part of any inspection is that the vast majority of them are free.
Always Use Your Child Seat
With knowledge comes responsibility and as Ms. Hersman stated, a child’s safety is non-negotiable. With the child safety seat or booster seat purchased and properly installed, it now becomes incumbent to use it—every ride, every time.
Many of today’s parents were not raised using child safety seats or booster seats. However, society’s knowledge and understanding has advanced. We now understand the importance of these life saving products. Learning that we can do something better and safer requires action by all of us. At times it can just take education, at other times it takes action by law enforcement officers. But either way, as parents and grandparents, you can evolve and change your behavior and act for the benefit of those silent voices, keeping your children as safe as possible whenever in a car.
- National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) Child Safety Seat Recall Sign Up
- National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB)
- NTSB’s Most Wanted List
- Safe Kids Worldwide–Seat Check Sites
- Safer Cars/Parents Central–Child Safety Seats
- Graco Recalls 3.8 Million Child Safety Seats
- Highway to Safety Podcast–Jennifer Huebner Davidson–Child Safety Seats: Are Yours Installed Correctly?
- Highway to Safety Podcast–Kate Carr–Child Safety Seats: Buckle Up–Every Ride, Every Time
- Highway to Safety Podcast Videos of Chairman Hersman
Deborah Hersman speaking at a Child Safety Seat Event
 Deborah Hersman is now President and CEO for the National Safety Council (NSC).
Three out of 4 child safety seats are not properly installed. Jennifer Huebner-Davidson, Manager of Traffic Safety for AAA and an expert on child safety seats, discusses some of the common mistakes and what you can do to make sure your child’s seat is properly installed.
Why Child Safety Seats?
Car and truck seat belts are designed for adults. For the best protection, the lap belt should be low and snug across the hips and the shoulder portion must be snug across the chest, away from the neck and face. For many adults, this is not a problem. However, for young children, adult seat belts never fit properly. With an incorrect fit, a child is at serious risk. A child safety seat or booster seat remedy this problem.
Child safety seats are now an accepted feature when a child is in a car. Organizations across the globe call for their use. The U.N. Decade of Action for Road Safety includes child safety seats as an important element in reducing the number of global road fatalities. Parents everywhere are purchasing them and understand the need to have them in the car.
The issue now is that many child seats are not properly installed. A few common mistakes include:
- Using the lower anchors and the car’s seat belts in combination to secure the child safety seat.
- Not using a tether when indicated by the manual.
- Placing a child safety seat in the center of the back seat using the lower anchors from the two outside seats.
- Not considering the combined weight of the child and seat when using the anchor system.
Parents are obviously trying to install the seats properly, but mistakes are being made. Some times it is an over abundance of caution creating an issue. For example, using the lower anchors and the seat belt in combination to secure a child car seat would make you think that it is increasing the safety potential. However, there is no research that it is improves a child’s safety and there are concerns it could create problems. Seat belts and the lower anchor system are designed to work independently.
In this episode, Ms. Huebner-Davidson also provides guidance on the type of child car seat that should be used and when to change to a new car seat. Ultimately, as she indicates, one should always first read the Child Safety Seat Instruction Manual and then the vehicle manual.
Three tips for achieving a successful installation include:
- Read the Child Safety Seat User Manual
- Read your vehicle manual
- Get the seat checked at a Car Seat Check Site
Getting an inspection at the car seat check site allows an expert to determine if the seat is properly installed. If it isn’t, the technician will show you what is incorrect and how to fix it so when you are on your own, you’ll have the knowledge and ability to install it correctly. Click here to find the closest car seat check site to you.
Once your child is old enough and according to the user manual for the child safety seat, the next step is to move to a booster seat. This will help the adult seat belt to properly fit your child. Finally, when your child grows old enough to leave the booster seat behind, remember, they still need to wear a seat belt and ride in the back seat.
As your child grows, providing her or him as much protection as possible from injuries in a car crash requires three steps:
- Purchase the correct child safety seat
- Properly install it
- Use it
You have taken the time to purchase the seat and to install it – make sure to do that last step, and use it. You never know about the driving skills of the person next to you, or if they may be texting while driving or driving impaired. Remember, once you have installed the seat, it should be used Every Ride, Every Time. Using these three steps can help ensure your child has the life he or she was meant to have.
- AAA – Child Safety
- AAA – Safe Seats 4 Kids
- NHTSA – Car Seat Recommendations for Children
- Car Seat Check
- AAA – Latch System Press Release
- AAA – Fact Sheet – New Research on Lower Anchors and Tethers
- NHTSA – The Simple Facts about LATCH
- NHTSA – Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children
- Highway to Safety Podcast – Interview of Kate Carr, CEO Safe Kids Worldwide on Child Safety Car Seats
A Conversation with Kate Carr
Ms. Kate Carr, CEO of Safe Kids Worldwide, talks about Child Safety Seats and their critical importance in saving children’s lives in car crashes. The easiest and most effective way to protect your child in a car crash is a child safety seat. This episode is a conversation on when, where and how to properly use a child car safety seat.
The first step in protecting your child in a car crash is purchasing a car seat for your newborn, the second step is installing it correctly and the third step is actually buckling your child in it. With a 58% reduction in child deaths since 1987, it is clear that we have significantly improved our actions to protect children, but more needs to be done. One example discussed in this episode is Great Britain’s most famous newborn, Prince George. After being carried out from St. Mary’s Hospital in England, he was placed in a child safety seat located in the back seat, and it was a rear-facing—both fantastic actions. However, the straps in the car seat placed around Prince George were too loose, and he was wrapped in a lot of swaddling, concerns for child safety experts. Fortunately, the corrections are simple to make.
Child Safety Seat Inspections
Installing a child seat correctly is easily shown at any one of over 100,000 annual child car seat inspections. While at a car seat inspection, one of the 36,000 certified child car seat technicians will inspect the seat installation and provide advice and tips on making sure it is done correctly. The most important aspect of a car seat inspection is that parents are taught how to properly install the seat, an important lesson they take with them when they leave.
However, a new survey of parents with children under the age of 10 has raised significant concern: one in four parents admitted to not buckling a child in a car safety seat at least occasionally, citing such reasons as:
- It was “just” a short trip
- Time constraints due to feeling rushed
- Letting a child sleep laying down during overnight travel, and
- As a “reward.”
With a majority of crashes happening within 10 minutes of home, short trips and time constraints make it even more dangerous to fail to use a child car seat. A significant number of crashes happen in the evening hours, so allowing your child to lie down, while understandable, poses too much risk. And as both Kate and David note, a child buckled in a car seat is not punishment, it is safety, and the child’s life, and should never be negotiable. Ever. Clearly, the research demonstrates the importance of the Safe Kids Worldwide tag line: Buckle up, every ride, every time.
A Summary of the Key Points
Afterwards, David provides highlights of the conversation, noting that every parent of a young child should:
- Have a child safety seat and place it in the back seat
- For approximately a child’s first two years have a rear-facing car seat
- Check the label on the seat to make sure it is the right seat based on the age, height and weight of the child
- Check the car seat’s label for the expiration date
- Never use a car seat that has been in a crash
- At the right time, switch a child to a booster seat to ensure the adult seat belts fit properly and still protect the child, and
- When your child is old enough to “do it themselves” double-check to make sure they have—and when safe to do so, glance back now and then to make sure they have not unbuckled themselves.
From 1975 through 2011, an estimated 9,874 lives were saved by child restraints for children under the age of 5 in passenger vehicles—almost 10,000 lives saved because parents took the time to get child safety seats, and use them. Now, we must all make sure they are installed correctly and used ALL the time.
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