Most parents now know that car seats are essential for young children riding in cars. In today’s post, I am going to provide some updated information and lesser-known tips that might help keep your kids safer in their car seats. Does all of this matter? I think so. A recent article on healthychildren.org says that deaths in motor vehicle crashes are still the leading cause of death for young children:
While the rate of deaths in motor vehicle crashes in children under age 16 has decreased substantially – dropping 45 percent between 1997 and 2009 – it is still the leading cause of death for children ages 4 and older. Counting children and teens up to age 21, there are more than 5,000 deaths each year. Fatalities are just the tip of the iceberg; for every fatality, roughly 18 children are hospitalized and more than 400 are injured seriously enough to require medical treatment.
So how can you keep your children safer?
1. Keep Children Rear-Facing As Long As Possible
Parents often switch their toddlers into forward facing seats on or around their first birthdays. For many years, the AAP and others have recommended that children remain rear facing until they were at least 1 year old and 22 pounds. Many parents and caregivers thought that this meant that this was the appropriate age and weight to turn children around. I know plenty of parents who were elated to turn their children’s car seats around so that their kids could “see something” or so that their legs would not be cramped. Unfortunately, this is just not safe.
The new AAP recommendations, released last week, are grounded in safety research and the advice that many car seat advocates have emphasized for years. These recommendations call for children to remain rear facing as long as possible – at least until they are two years old and often beyond. A recent New York Times article explains that a 2007 study from the University of Virginia found “…that children under 2 are 75 percent less likely to suffer severe or fatal injuries in a crash if they are facing the rear.” That is a pretty compelling statistic.
I am excited about this new recommendation because I hope that it will encourage parents to consider keeping their children rear facing for much longer. I have kept both of my children rear facing far beyond their first birthdays. In fact, my two year old is still happily rear facing. We have a car seat that allows rear facing until 45 pounds and my daughter is only about 23 pounds now. I doubt that she will stay rear facing until she is 45 pounds, but she will certainly stay that way for as long as possible.
My decisions were based on both safety and selfish reasons. First, the selfish reason: my first child was a kid who would sometimes fall asleep in the car on long trips. I realized that once we faced him forward his head would hang uncomfortably if he fell asleep and he would be much less likely to rest comfortably then rear facing when he was reclined enough to slumber with full support to his head and neck. Second, the safety reason is that we have relied on the assistance and expertise of Debbi Baer when installing our car seats for several years. Ms. Baer, “a labor and delivery nurse in Baltimore who has been a car safety advocate for children for more than 30 years,” is quoted extensively in the New York Times article (http://www.nytimes.com/2011/03/22/health/policy/22carseat.html), along with her daughter “Dr. Alisa Baer, a pediatrician at Morgan Stanley Children’s Hospital in New York.” Dr. Baer told the Times “she felt so strongly that if a parent wants to install a forward-facing seat for a child younger than 2, “I tell them, ‘If you really want to make a stupid decision for your child, you can do it, but I’m not going to help you.’ ”” Her mother’s attitude seems from our experience to be the same!
2. Don’t Rush Any of the Transitions – Car Seat to Booster to Seatbelt
In the The New York Times article , the AAP policy’s lead author says
“Our recommendations are meant to help parents move away from gospel-held notions that are based on a child’s age,” Dr. Durbin said. “We want them to recognize that with each transition they make, from rear-facing to forward-facing, to booster seats, there is a decline in the safety of their child. That’s why we are urging parents to delay these transitions for as long as possible.”
Therefore the same prudence should apply in making the transition from car seat to booster and ultimately to a regular seat.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has created a nice flyer about the new recommendations.
The advice seems to boil down to a few key elements.
- Keep kids rear facing as long as allowed by the seat.
- Forward facing children should be in a 5-point harness as long as the seat allows
- Only transition to a belt-positioning booster when children have outgrown the car seat with a harness
- Keep kids in a belt-positioning booster until they are at least 4 feet 9 inches tall and 8-12 years old
3. Skip the Coats – Cover Kids Instead
Winter weather creates another potential danger about which many parents are unaware. One of the keys to car seat safety is having straps that fit snuggly on the child. If kids are dressed in bulky winter clothing – particularly puffy type coats – those clothes can compress in an accident and leave the straps too loose for kids to be safety secured. To counter this dangerous possibility, most car seat experts recommend that parents always remove winter coats before strapping their children into a car seat. Instead, they recommend placing a coat or a blanket on top of the child after the child is safely and snuggly secured in the car seat. This way, the child stays warm without having any risk of the straps being too loose. If this seems to be a hassle, there is a whole group of both small and commercial companies and individuals out there who make poncho type coats that can be pulled up for the child to be strapped in safely. It is also a good idea to be in the habit of checking the snugness of the straps every time you strap your child. For more details about winter coats in cars, check out this article.
4. Check the Installation!
All of the suggestions above are critical for safety, but none more so than making sure that your car seat is installed properly in the first place. If the car seat is not installed safely, having the child in the correct seat and having the child buckled properly will not be of nearly as much help. It is a commonly quoted statistic that 70% or more of children are not properly restrained. The good news is that help is available. At seatcheck.org you can find a listing of places near to you where you can get free or low cost assistance in properly installing your car seat. These experts can also check to make sure that the seats you have already installed are installed properly.
You may also want to watch this video from Dr. Alisa Baer, “the Car Seat Lady” -
Do you have other safety tips for car seats? If so, share them with the rest of us!