Tag Archives: kids and cars

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!

Child Passenger Safety Week – September 16-22, 2012

Posted by Marianne Frederick

It’s Child Passenger Safety Week, and we think this is a great opportunity to check to make sure your children’s booster seats are properly installed in the vehicle in which you transport your children and that you are using the correct vehicle restraints.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is encouraging parents to take advantage of the free booster seat checks which may be offered in your communities this week by organizations like the local Sheriff’s Department or the local SafeKids Coalition near you!

You can visit SaferCar.gov for guidelines and “how-to” videos on car seat belt use and installation.   If you have questions about car seats, you may want to participate in a Live Twitter Question and Answer session with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s safety experts, on Wednesday September 19 from 2 p.m. until 3 p.m. (EDT).  You can follow and send questions to @NHTSAgov   Twitter.com/NHTSAgov  Hashtag: #therightseat.

Children Should Not be Left in Hot Cars – Look Before you Lock!

Posted by Marianne Frederick

Recently, we learned from child safety colleague, Janette Fennell of Kids and Cars.org, the sad news that within a 6-day period this summer 8 children in 4 different states died because they had been left in parked vehicles whose interiors overheated. This isn’t the kind of piece ChildSafetyBlog.org wants to write today or any day. The deaths of these children were preventable and the sorrow these families are experiencing does not eclipse the fact that parents, relatives and caregivers are frequently unwittingly the last location for the safety of their children. These children died in their parents’ or grand-parents’ vehicles, in a daycare van, after being left in a vehicle in a daycare parking lot and after being left in a parent’s minivan.

National Highway Traffic Safety Commission (NHTSA) administrator David Strickland says the NHTSA is “working… to educate the public about heatstroke and bring an end to these tragedies.” Sadly, somehow the cautions about heatstroke and the danger of asphyxiation to young children in hot cars are apparently not getting to the people who need to know, or these cautions are not being taken seriously. And we are left asking why these tragedies have happened and what can we do now?

What we can do is, “If you see something, say something!” Don’t be shy about telling the manager of a store if you see a parent has gone into a store…even “only for a minute”… and left young children alone in a car. Tell the manager as soon as possible! Often managers are able to make an announcement on a PA system. Yes, take the license number of the car–Call 911 if you have to, and wait until the police arrive.

If you see a parent going into a store alone–and you are aware they have brought children with them, ask, “Did you bring your children/child? Are they in the car with (a caregiver, parent, relatives) someone? Are the windows rolled down?” Last week, I parked next to an older vehicle in which there was an approximately 10-year old child alone. The windows were rolled up. It was hot. As I got out of my car, the parent came out of the store. The look on my face must have stung–I didn’t have the chance to speak, when she said, “Well, I left the car running and the air conditioning on!” She climbed in the car and drove off. I thought, what if the car ran out of gas or the engine had quit running or fumes from the older car’s exhaust had overcome the child? This particular child had a physical handicap and could not have opened the window herself.

Kids and Cars.org recommends this Look Before You Lock check-list of cautions you can tape to your dashboard and check every time you drive any child anywhere:

Back seat – Place a toy or something else you need (a purse?) in the back seat, so that you have to open the vehicle door when leaving the vehicle–it will remind you to check the back seat for a child or children

Each child passenger should be properly restrained in the back seat of the vehicle

Stuffed animal–Place a stuffed animal in the front seat, to remind you they are with you

Ask a caregiver or childcare provider to call you within 10 minutes if your child has not arrived at their destination or daycare on time

Focus on driving–Distracted driving is a major cause of car crashes

Every time you park your vehicle, open the back door to make sure no one in the car has been left behind!

Look Before You Lock!

Posted by Marianne Frederick

In April 2012, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) launched a program called, “Where’s Baby? Look Before You Lock.” Knowing exactly where your young children are is always important, but now that the warmest season of the year is soon to be in full swing, it becomes even more important to check to make sure your child is not in the backseat as you are locking your car.

This public service campaign by the NHTSA aims to reduce the number of young children’s deaths from heatstroke and hyperthermia after having been left in vehicles which can become overheated quickly. During 2011, there were 33 deaths of young children in the U.S. from this type of hyperthermia, in 2010 there were 49–the majority of those deaths were of children under the age of 6 who had been left in vehicles whose interiors became overheated. All of the deaths were preventable. According to the NHTSA, heatstroke is the leading cause of non-crash fatalities for children under the age of 14. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood noted, “It is [our] hope that the simple tips from this campaign will save lives and help families avoid unnecessary heartache.”

As part of the campaign, the NHTSA is releasing both radio and online advertisements focused on the theme “Where’s baby? Look before you lock.” In addition, the NHTSA is making a tool kit available at http://www.safercar.gov/parents/heat-involved.htm for parents and organizations to use in local campaigns on the issue. It’s important for parents and caregivers to remember that children’s body temperatures can rise up to five times faster than that of an adult. Heatstroke in kids left in cars can occur even when temperatures outside the vehicle are as low as 57 degrees Fahrenheit. Cars heat up quickly!

The NHTSA recommends the following tips to help parents and caregivers prevent accidental heatstroke in very young children:

  • Never leave an infant or child unattended in a vehicle–even if the windows are partially open and/or the air conditioner is running;
  • Make a habit of looking in the vehicle front and back before walking away from the vehicle;
  • Request the child care provider call you as soon as they are aware if the child does not show up for scheduled daycare, nursery school or school as expected;
  • If you do not take your child to daycare and someone else does, have that person call you to confirm your baby arrived safely;
  • Place reminders to yourself that a child is in the vehicle, such as a child’s backpack or lunch or stuffed toy–place the item in the front passenger seat so you are forced see it before exiting the car;
  • Never allow your car to be a play area for any young child in your care; and
  • Store your car keys up and out of a child’s reach!

Especially this summer, please remember to “Look Before You Lock!” and help keep kids safe!

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!

Secretary of Transportation Postpones Rule on Back-up Cameras for Autos and Trucks

According to an article in the February 28 section, DriveOn in USA Today, Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood has postponed once more the publication of a rule which would require rear-view cameras in all model 2014 cars and trucks. http://content.usatoday.com/communities/driveon/post/2012/02/report-backup-camera-to-be-required-on–2014-light-vehicles/1

Anticipating that the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) can issue the final rule by December 31, 2012, Secretary LaHood informed members of the House and Senate oversight committees. DOT currently estimates that having rear-view cameras in vehicles could save approximately 300 lives annually.  The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) estimates that “292 fatalities and 18,000 injuries result each year from back-over incidents by cars and light trucks”. Of fatalities involving light vehicles, the NHTSA says 44% are children under five years of age.[1][1]  Child Safety advocate, Janette Fennell of KidsAndCars.org, commented that the news was devastating and totally unacceptable when it has been four years since the bill had been signed into law. http://ceoutlook.com/tag/rear-view-cameras/

The 2007 law requiring DOT to promulgate standards to improve the ability for drivers to view pedestrians behind vehicles was originally to have been published by February 28, 2011; however, LaHood cited the many difficult issues which surfaced during the public comment period for the proposed standards.  LaHood also noted that additional research and data analyses would be required to produce the most “protective and efficient” rule that would cover a broader spectrum of vehicles and drivers than originally addressed.

Indicating that the new projected deadline for this critical safety rule would be December 31, 2012, LaHood also noted that if a final rule were not published by December 2012, that it could affect whether cameras would be installed in all new 2014 vehicles.  Carmakers and regulators presently differ in their perception of how quickly a camera image “must appear after the driver shifts into reverse.” The difference of two seconds could mean the life of a child standing, walking or playing behind a large SUV.

Another point of contention between DOT and automobile manufacturers is the additional cost to carmakers which would be passed on to the consumer and could raise the sticker price $200 for some vehicles.  Some high-end automakers presently offer a rear-view camera as an option. There also are differences in the cameras, for instance, a driver may have to turn the radio on before the camera will work. Consumer Reports‘ Auto Testing Center’s David Champion says, “Back-up cameras are a great thing, because visibility is getting worse in today’s cars,” due to changes in car styles leaning toward aerodynamic rather than visibility improvements.


[1][1] “LaHood delays rule that may require backup cameras,” Woodyard, Chris et al., USA Today “Drive On”, February 28, 2012; http://content.usatoday.com/communities/driveon/post/2012/02/report-backup-camera-to-be-required-on–2014-light-vehicles/1

Let’s Talk About Kids and Cars – Are you Distracted?

Recently when I drove my car into the parking lot of a grocery store and parked, I noticed a car across from mine where a woman was standing and talking on her cell phone. I couldn’t help but observe the scenario that was playing out in front of me–a serious safety challenge for a distracted caregiver was about to unfold! A young woman stood with an empty shopping cart talking on her cell phone, with her back to the open door of her 4-door sedan. Perhaps she had been interrupted by a phone call before helping her children get out of the car and into the cart. There were two young children in the car and from the way they moved in and around the back seat of the vehicle, I concluded they were not restrained by any kind of booster seat. I wondered how long the woman had been on the phone, and how long it would take for at least one of the children to find a way out of the car. Cars and pick-up trucks were entering and exiting the parking lot as the woman continued with the phone conversation without turning around to watch the children in her car–and in her care. I have to admit I was getting concerned.

As all parents come to realize, kids are nothing short of resourceful. It was no surprise finally that one young child was out of the breech and was playfully looking for a place to hide underneath a neighboring parked car. Fortunately, a male passerby loudly called the woman’s attention to the fact that one youngster was out of the car and the other one was about to follow. She was aghast–I will never forget the look of realization on the woman’s face at what could have happened. Once retrieved, the child was bundled back into the car with a “good-talking to,” and both children were remanded to the back seat (still no booster seat that I observed), the woman abandoned her cart and drove from the parking lot. The incident lasted maybe five minutes, and it could have ended in heartbreak. Thankfully, it did not.

That’s when I began to think seriously about the issue of distracted driving–and parking–especially about how parents can lose track of a child they are taking to daycare on their way to work, or how we, parents and caregivers, become so involved in what we are doing that we forget about the kids we are transporting. Yes, there are demands on our time, and yes, we are involved in careers, children’s school activities and other pursuits–and we are often our family’s regular or substitute chauffeurs. Lapses of attention and memory do occur and we get so committed to our routines that we may seem to be doing things by rote–but what can we do to prevent being distracted when we have children to whom we need to pay attention?

There are things we can do to remind ourselves that there are children in the backseat (even if they’re not making noise). We can put a backpack, a stuffed toy, lunches or some other item in the front seat that we need to give the children when we help them out of the car at the destination. We can set an alarm on our phones or other digital devices that reminds us to check the kids we are transporting. We can write ourselves a note and tape it to the dash board. We can make lists and immediately cross items off when we have completed them. Simply paying attention to your child is one of the best duties we can perform as parents.

Maybe one of the most important rules we can make for ourselves is to never, ever leave our kids alone in a parked car, not even for a minute. Whether a car’s engine is running or not, a child may be able to disengage parking gears in some vehicles. Children who are not restrained can get their limbs or head stuck in automatic windows or climb through backseats into trunks and become trapped. Children can become trapped in locked vehicles, so always take your children and your keys out of the car when you get out of the car.

And of course always remember that a vehicle’s interior becomes hot rapidly when it is parked in the sun. Children and the elderly are especially vulnerable to high temperatures in cars with windows rolled up.

It’s time to stop the distracting habits we have while we’re driving–whether it’s talking or texting on a cell phone (which is now illegal in some states)–or watching a video on some digital device or mobile TV, eating, putting on make-up, or even chatting while driving–it’s time to become aware of what we’re doing and ditch the distractions!