Every day in the U.S., three children die in car crashes, while 260 more are seriously injured. What’s even more disturbing is that 70 percent of these accidents would not have been serious or fatal if the children had been properly buckled up. Although most parents realize that car safety seats should always be used for infants and young children, many do not know how to use the seats correctly. Follow these essential procedures whenever your child is in the car with you:
- Place infants and young children in a safety seat that faces the rear of the car, not the front.
- Know the history of the seat and choose a safety seat that is not more than six years old.
- Route the seat belt properly through the marked seat belt path (openings) on the safety seat.
- Make sure the safety seat is correctly anchored to the vehicle seat. Check that the safety seat does not move more than 1 inch from side to side or front to back.
- Recline the safety seat according to the manufacturer’s instructions and recline angle indicators on the seat.
For the best protection, don’t switch to a front-facing car seat as soon as your child reaches the minimum requirements for one. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends keeping children in a rear-facing seat until age 2 or until the child reaches the height or weight limit for the seat. Continuing to use a five-point harness for your child offers the best protection. When turning your child forward-facing, look for a seat with the highest harness weight limit. Many go up to 65 pounds and a few go to 90 pounds.
Remember that vehicle seat belts are not “one size fits all.” A booster seat positions your child to help the vehicle lap and shoulder belts fit correctly. The belts need to be on the hard bones of the hips and shoulder. Belts that cross over the stomach or neck can cause serious injury. Most states have child restraint laws that include booster seat use.Laws vary from state to state, but to be safest, put your child in a booster seat until he or she is least 4 foot, 9 inches tall and weighs more than 80 pounds.
Your child is big enough to use a vehicle seat belt alone when he or she is taller than 4 foot, 9 inches and can sit up straight at the back of the vehicle seat (no slouching) with his or her knees bent over the edge of the seat. The lap belt needs to ride low over the hip bones and the shoulder belt needs to be in the center of the shoulder bone. The child needs to be able to ride that way for the entire trip.
Children age 13 and younger should always ride in the back seat! For more information, call the Norton Children’s Hospital Office of Child Advocacy at (502) 629-7358 or visit www.safekids.org.