Tag Archives: car seat

Seatbelts, Booster Seats and Back-Over Accidents

“Children don’t need to be in a car to be hurt by one” is a phrase that has percolated in my mind over the past week. Where we live in Virginia, I see at least one young child in a car not buckled in a seatbelt or safely protected by a booster seat, perhaps once a week. I rarely, if ever, see young children turned around facing backward in the backseat. Often I want to say something to the drivers–in a thoughtful way–but offering free advice about a hot-button issue like seatbelts or booster seats can elicit a hostile response. So we will continue to raise the issue in ChildSafetyBlog. Here, we are probably as sensitive to this issue as many people who see young adult drivers texting or adults simply using their phone, while driving. Yet, in our view, parents who transport children by car without at least fastening seatbelts or protecting them in a booster seat are clearly not using their best judgment.

To be protected very young children should remain in a rear-facing car seat until they are at least 20 pounds in weight and a year old. Babies can be vulnerable to head and spine injuries in the case of a car crash, if their car seats are not rear facing. Some parents are concerned that their children may sustain leg injuries if their seats face backward, but thus far, there is no evidence of kids receiving leg injuries because their car seats were facing the back.

We were surprised to learn recently that many parents have actually given up booster seats for children between the ages 4 and 8–even though children can sustain serious injuries without booster seats. Booster seats are especially helpful because the child is raised to a height where the seat belt fits properly across lap and chest. Strapping children snugly in their seats is also a key to safety. If parents loosen the straps for any reason, they need to remember before they go on their way, to tighten them again. One more caution to parents and caregivers is to make sure when you send your child in someone else’s car, that the driver has your child’s booster seat to use for your child. You might even think about purchasing an extra, basic booster seat to use for this purpose.

Back to the earlier statement, kids don’t need to be in cars to be hurt by them. Backing over children is still a terrible tragedy no parent or caregiver should ever experience. The statistics are shocking: Fatal backing accidents kill at least 228 people every year — 110 of them are children under age 10 — and injure 17,000.[1] We have passed the end of 2012, and Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, who pushed back the deadline to publish the new rules for car manufacturers, promised this would be done by the end of the year. The new rules would mandate new manufacturing requirements to improve the visibility behind passenger vehicles and help prevent fatal backing crashes. We want to know why this hasn’t happened? The response of “added costs to the auto industry”-in light of their current profits–is no longer a viable excuse!

One Study Says Carpooling Parents Ignore Booster Seat Recommendations

Here are two good ideas parents like to put into practice: “Keeping children safe when they ride in the car by using the appropriate booster or safety car seats in the proper manner;” and “Car pooling in order to save gas, limit wear and tear on a vehicle, and rotate chauffeuring responsibilities of parents and caregivers.” Both of these sound like great ideas, don’t they? Is there any good reason these ideas should be mutually exclusive?

We don’t think so, but, according to a study performed by Michelle Macy, MD, of the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, and her colleagues, “Parents who generally have their children use booster seats in the car are not consistent in their use of booster seats when carpooling.”[1] Also, 79% of the group of carpooling parents in the study said they would always ask another driver to make sure to use a booster seat for their child and only 55% said they would have their child use a booster seat if their friends riding in the vehicle did not have booster seats. The data in the study were compiled from a survey of 681 parents of children, ranging in ages from 4 to 8. The article published in the February 2012 issue of Pediatrics, concluded that “social norms and self-efficacy for booster seat use may be influential in carpooling situations,”[2] which is a lofty way of saying that peer pressure is at work and it limits children’s safe-riding behavior even in carpooling situations.

This means to me that as child safety communicators, we need to do a better and more thorough job in publishing the message long and loud that using restraints appropriate for a child’s size every time they are in the car is very important for the safety of your child! The American Academy of Pediatrics believes health care providers have an important role in the process of communicating this message as parents view health care providers as a major resource for information on how to keep their children safe. The American Academy of Pediatrics revised their policy statement on booster seat use last year to reflect an emphasis on the size of a child, rather than a child’s age, by “recommending the use of a booster seat from the time children outgrow their forward-facing car seat until they reach 4 feet, 9 inches tall, around ages 8 to 12.”  [3] Safekids.org says “Use booster seats from 40 to 80 or 100 pounds.

The University of Michigan study reported that despite the type of restraint used for their children, most parents (64%) participated in carpooling and that booster seats were not uniformly used when the parents were driving other children.[4] The good news is that 76% of the parents used a safety seat for their child (although they had difficulty distinguishing between a safety car seat and a booster seat so for the purposes of this study, safety and booster seats were combined into “safety seats”). The remaining 24% of parents in the study said they used restraints (safety belts), but not booster seats, for their children. Finally, children were more likely to be using safety seats if the children were younger or lived in states where safety/booster seats were mandated by law. Our conclusion: Parents and caregivers need to know the differences between booster and safety seats and always make sure to use the size-appropriate seat in the proper way for children… every time they ride in your car! Every state has a child passenger safety law and parents and caregivers need to know the law in their state. To find the child passenger safety and safety belt use laws in your state, go to www.usa.safekids.org [5] and, please, drive and ride safely!

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.