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).