Category Archives: Child Safety In and Around Cars

Pedestrian Safety with Children is Always A Bright Idea!

Summer is almost here and there’s more daylight for children to play out of doors. Children are happy and excited to be out and about after this very long winter! As parents, family members, babysitters, and caregivers, we need to remind ourselves that even though the roads are clear of ice and snow, we need to be cautious with children walking near and around vehicle traffic–even in our own neighborhoods, parking lots, and school crossings. We need to be vigilant about how and where our kids are walking with or without us!

So, “Stop, Look and Listen!” as you approach a curb or street crossing with your child. Stop and look to make sure a car, bus, truck, or other vehicle is not coming before crossing the street. Often, we hear motorized vehicles before we see them! Listen for the sounds of an approaching vehicle; and wait until the street is clear before you cross.

Parents, please use and teach children the following basic pedestrian safety rules:

  • Do not allow children under age 10 to cross the street alone.
  • Never allow children to play in the street or road. 
  • Always try to walk with children on paths or sidewalks. If there are no sidewalks or paths, walk facing road traffic as you walk on the street-side and your child walks on the “curb-side.”
  • Hold your child’s hand!
  • Look both ways for danger before and while crossing the street.
  • Walk– do not run– across the street!
  • If you walk with your child, dress yourself, as well as your child, in light, bright colors or retro-reflective materials, so drivers can easily spot you and your child.
  • Follow directions of police and school crossing guards–they are there to help.

Another Installment About Child Safety Seats

Couldn’t resist the pun in the title.  So we’re talking again about child safety seats.  Why? Because they’re really important.  There are few things that a parent or caregiver can do to keep a child safe that are more effective than placing that child in a properly installed child safety seat.  For earlier posts about child seats and how they work, you can go here and here.

A lot of progress has been made in reducing deaths and injuries to children by publicizing the correct use of child safety seats, booster seats and safety belts.  But we can do more.  We appreciate the time and attention the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and others advocating for child passenger safety have devoted to this important cause, but more work needs to be done to protect children who ride in cars in safety seats.

The NHTSA says 3 out of 4 car seats are not properly used or installed and that 3 out of every 4 children in child safety seats are not properly secured, or are not restrained at all.

As a parent, do you know how to use the Safety Seat correctly?  Some parents are not sure how to install their child’s safety seat properly. It’s important for parents to know that not every seat fits every car.  Also, some parents don’t know their vehicle (if manufactured after September 2002) is required to be equipped with the Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children (LATCH) system.

NHTSA says, “LATCH makes it easier to get the child seat in right.”  And NHTSA has several video demonstrations on their website (with instructions in both English and Spanish) which you can view!  Go here to view.

We know as a parent or caregiver, you want to protect your children the best way possible, and using the LATCH system is one way to help.

Another way is to learn which kind of seat is best and safest to use for your children: NHTSA says, “for infants (from birth to at least 1 year old or at least 20 pounds), the best possible protection is to place them in the back seat, in rear-facing child safety seats.”

When children outgrow rear-facing seats (when they are older than one year old and weigh more than 20 pounds), they should ride in forward-facing child safety seats, still in the back seat, until they reach an upper weight or height limit of the particular seat (usually around age 4 and 40 pounds).

Always check the child safety seat instruction manual of the brand of child safety seat you have. Every safety seat manufacturer provides specific instructions to the proper installation and use of their brand of child safety seat.

Finally, if as a parent or caregiver you are still not sure whether your child safety seat is properly installed, you can take your vehicle to a Child Safety Seat Inspection Station.  If you need help locating a child safety seat inspection station near you, you can call the NHTSA at 1-888-327-4236 (Vehicle Safety Hotline) or you can jump to this link.  Enter your zip code or state, and a list of child safety seat inspection stations in your area or state will be displayed.  Some stations have bilingual speakers and some stations inspect by appointment only.  You may want to call ahead!

With grateful thanks to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

To write NHTSA and obtain more information on Child Safety Seats, please contact them at:

NHTSA Headquarters
1200 New Jersey Avenue, SE
West Building
Washington, DC 20590

Child Seat Safety – Part 2

We know child seats are important, but do we know why?  How do they work to keep our children safer in a car accident, and why is it so vitally important that they be installed correctly?

It helps to first examine how seat belts work.  There’s an old saying in injury analysis — “it’s not how fast you’re going, but how fast you stop,”  meaning injuries occur not because you are traveling fast, but because you stop incredibly quickly (like under a tenth of a second).  To give an obvious example of this, a passenger jet lands at something like 150 mph, and everyone is fine because it comes to a stop over a relatively long period of time.  If that same jet crashes into the ground at the same speed, everyone dies instantly. The difference is the time period over which the plane stops.

So let’s apply this to seat belts and child safety seats.  Let’s say John runs his car into a wall at 50 mph, and is stupid
enough to not be wearing a seat belt.  John’s car stops in the blink of
an eye, but poor John keeps moving at 50 mph . . . until he hits the
windshield with his head (for all of you smart alecks out there – his
car didn’t have an airbag).  John has bought himself a ticket to the
morgue, because his skull couldn’t withstand those forces.

Obviously, one thing a seat belt would have done is keep John from striking the interior of the vehicle.  But another, less obvious, benefit of a seat belt is that it would have coupled John to the vehicle and allowed him to “ride down” the forces of the crash.  Vehicles today are designed with crumple zones which are designed to collapse and absorb the energy from a collision, thereby lessening the forces on the occupants. Ideally, the occupant compartment is designed like a cage, and minimizes intrusion from other parts of the vehicle.  As long as an occupant is wearing a seat belt correctly, he will gain the benefit of the cars crumple zones absorbing energy, and, like a jet landing, he will be able to ride down the accident forces over a longer period.

The seat belt retractor is designed to make sure the belt is snug to an occupant’s body at all times.  During normal movement of a passenger, it allows a person to move freely, but in an accident, or with a sudden stop, it locks quickly.  It’s important that the retractor lock quickly.  Let’s use the example of a 50 mph crash.  If the retractor doesn’t lock at the moment of impact, the occupant keeps moving at 50 mph.  When the retractor locks too late, there are tremendous forces put on the person as he slams into the belt.  An analogy would be the snapping of a whip.

This is why it’s so important to install child carseats correctly.   If a carseat is tightly coupled to the vehicle, via a seatbelt or “latch” system, and also a tether, then an infant or child will gain the benefit of the vehicle absorbing most of the accident forces — the forces to the child are lessened.  If the car seat is not tightly coupled, the child is going to keep moving forward at the vehicle’s speed.  Two things can happen – both of them bad. 1)  The child can move forward so far that he strikes a component of the vehicles interior, and, 2) when the retractor does finally catch the seat, tremendous forces are put on the child’s head and neck as he is snapped violently.

So, that’s a quick lessen in seat belt safety, and why it’s so important to install car seats correctly.  In my next posts, we’ll talk about how to install them so that your child is as safe as possible when he or she is riding in a car.

Most people have no idea how violent a high speed crash is.  If you’d like to see the forces involved on a child, click here to see a video of testing done on a child accident dummy.  As you’ll see, it’s still incredibly violent.  Keep in mind that this is slow motion — everything you see takes place in the blink of an eye.

If anyone ever questions the importance of a car seat, or jokes about how they didn’t have them when they were kids, and they turned out fine, show them this video comparing a child in a car seat to one who’s unrestrained.

Car Seat Safety – Part 1 of Many

One of the best ways to protect your young child is to CORRECTLY put them in an appropriate child safety seat.  I emphasize correctly because the statistics show that only 72% of child restraints are properly used.  Here are the most common ways that restraints are improperly used:

  • Inappropriate age and weight for child restraints
  • Wrong direction for the child restraint
  • Child restraint improperly placed relative to vehicle’s airbags
  • Improperly placed or secured child restraints (vehicle’s belt or straps not tight enough)
  • Crotch strap or harness strap of child restraint secure or tight enough
  • Use of a locking clip for certain safety belts
  • Improper vehicle belt fit across child in a booster seat
  • Child restraints with broken parts.

It’s amazing to me that these misuse statistics are so high when we know that proper use of child restraints is one of the most effective ways to protect children against serious injury.  Personally, I personally believe this is a combined failure of government regulation/education and a failure to focus on or address the problem by our vehicle manufacturers.

So, this month will be dedicated to the proper use of child safety restraints.  If there are any particular issues you want me to address, please let me know.

New CDC Report on Child Safety and Injuries

The CDC has released a report on child injuries which is fascinating and very instructive. I’ll write on this in greater detail over the next few weeks, but I highly recommend that parents take a look at the report for themselves. One very sobering statistic – every day in the United States, 20 children die as a result of preventable injuries. This is higher than the number of deaths from all childhood diseases combined. Go to the next page for other highlights.

Other highlights of the report:

  • The majority of deaths were from five causes: falls, being struck by or against an object, overexertion, motor vehicle deaths, and animal bites or insect stings.
  • Falls were the leading cause of non-fatal injuries, accounting for approximately 2.8 million emergency room visits (one of whom was our son Michael when he was 14 months old – but he’s got the walking thing down now).
  • Leading causes of fatal injuries per age group – suffocation was the cause of two-thirds of deaths for children under 1 year of age, drowning was the major cause for children 1-4, and for 5-19 year olds, the leading cause was being an occupant in a motor vehicle crash.

I always preach that the three greatest dangers for parents are cars, water and burn injuries. I will now add falls to that list. We as parents cannot prevent all the bumps and bruises of childhood, but these are the areas where we need to be especially vigilant for our children’s safety.