Health Tips & Articles

Car Safety

by Karen G. Sheldon, NP

Motor vehicle crashes are one of the leading causes of serious injury and death in children.  Correct use of car safety restraints help to keep children safe.   By following simple basic safety rules for this most precious cargo, you can help protect children from devastating unintentional injury.

One of the first and most important jobs you have as a new parent is to use a fastened and secured safety seat for your infant.  There are many choices for car seats, and making a selection can be confusing.  The age and size of the infant (rather than the cost of the seat) are the most important considerations for selecting the best option.  Most car seats have a sticker on the side or the back of the car seat with size limitations. The best seat is the one that fits your infant’s weight and age, is properly installed, fits well in your vehicle, and is secured each and every time you drive.

For nearly all infants, the car seat should be placed in the back seat, preferably in the middle, and facing towards the rear. It should never be placed in front of an airbag, such as in the front seat. The infant car seat usually is used in the rear-facing position until 24 months of age or until the infant outgrows it.  Some parents prefer to use a convertible car seat, which is safe for both infants and older children.

Toddlers who are past the age of two and have outgrown the infant car seat usually switch to a forward facing car seat.   Use this car seat until the child outgrows the seat either by height or weight, based on the manufacturer’s limits.

You can use a booster seat in the back seat when a child outgrows the forward-facing car seat.  Some booster seats have high backs, and some have low backs.  These seats lift the child so that seatbelts can fit more safely across the body.  Keep in mind that the more protection offered by the car seat or booster seat, the safer they are while riding in the car.

When the child reaches a height of 4 feet 9 inches or the age of eight, your child has outgrown the booster seat.  He or she should continue to ride in the back seat with a shoulder and lap seatbelt fitted properly; the child should be able to sit with his or her back against the car’s seatback and with his or her knees bent over the edge of the seat without slouching. The lap seatbelt should rest low across on top of the thighs and not across the stomach.  The shoulder belt should lie comfortably across the middle of the chest and not across the neck. Never let your child ride with the shoulder strap behind them.  The child should continue to ride in the back seat until 13 years of age.

It is important that your child sees adults using seatbelts every time they are driving.  This helps to model what is normal, expected, and responsible behavior in a vehicle.

Here are a few other things to keep in mind:

  • Many cars allow you to manually de-activate an airbag if your child must ride where one is located. This is not optimal but may be done if there is no other choice.   Some cars also automatically de-activate an airbag based upon the weight in the seat.
  • Never accept a used car seat if it is missing parts or labeling.  Never accept a used car seat that appears cracked or misshaped or has been in an accident, even a minor one.  Damage that may have an effect on the safety of the seat is not always visible to the eye.
  • The most common problem for car seats is the incorrect placement and securing of the seat and erroneous usage of the harness straps. There are often resources in the community which can provide more detailed guidance or assistance.  Many local fire or police departments offer help installing a car seat, inspecting a car seat, and answering questions.

The following websites are helpful resources:

www.mass.gov/childsafetyseats

www.seatcheck.org

www.healthychildren.org

 

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