Car Seat Safety Part I
Here's an article I submitted on DesMoinesParent.com. See the original article here.
September 15-21, 2013 is National Child Passenger Safety week. The following is the first installment of two articles to help assure your child is being transported safely.
The Iowa Child Passenger Law states the following: Children must ride in an appropriate rear facing child safety seat until the age of 1 AND at least 20 pounds. Children must ride in a child safety seat or a booster seat through the age of 5 years. Children aged 6 through the age of 17 years must ride in a booster seat or a seat belt, regardless on their seating position in a vehicle.
Iowa’s Law is not “Best Practice”
Children should ride in an appropriate rear facing child safety seat until the maximum height and weight limits recommended by the seat’s manufacturer. Best Practice also recommends that a child stays rear faced until the age of 2 years. Infants have big heads and their bones, muscles and tendons are still developing. By staying rear-faced, it provides increased crash protection as the forces are more evenly distributed over the entire body, as well as doing a better job supporting a young child’s head, neck and spine. It is estimated to be 5 times safer to keep children rear facing into the 2nd year of life.
Children should stay restrained within a 5-point harness until the maximum height and weight limits of their child safety seat. This again will help distribute the forces of a crash more evenly across the child’s body. Many seats have an upper weight limit of 40 pounds, but some are rated up to 60-65 pounds. Check the labels or the instructions of the car seat for these specifications.
Children should ride in a booster seat after they have graduated from a harness system. By “boosting” up a child, the vehicle seat belt can properly fit a child across the chest and hips. If boosters are not used, the lap/shoulder belts tend to “ride up” the child’s abdomen as well as “creep up” on the child’s neck/face. This discomfort tempts children to put the seat belt behind their backs or under their armpits, risking serious injury due to the seat belt not being in proper position.
A child should stay in a booster seat until they are able to sit all the way back against the seat, their knees are bent over the front edge of the seat and their feet touch the floor. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, this is about 4 ft. 9 inches or between the ages of 8 and 12 years.
Children under the age of 13 years should ride in the back seat of a vehicle if possible. If a child must ride in the front seat, remember to push the vehicle seat back to the farthest position away from the dashboard and turn off the passenger air bag.
A commonly asked question is “What is the best car seat to use?” It can be very overwhelming when trying to pick out a child’s car seat. There are many types, features, fabrics, brands and price points, but they all meet the same regulations/standards and crash testing or they wouldn’t be out on the shelves. There will always be “recommended lists”, but they promote the ease of usage, cost, labels, instructions, ease of installations, the conveniences, etc. not the safety.
So the correct answer? The best seat is the one appropriate for your child’s age and development, the one that fits into your vehicle and the one you know how to use.
You may have heard that car seats have expiration dates. Yes, this is true. Most child safety seats have a usage period of 6 years. This time frame is determined upon the expected life span of the various seat components, the everyday usage, extreme weather changes that car seats endure inside vehicles as well as the latest safety standards.
Other things to keep in mind…
While many parents may love a deal, avoid the “second hand” seats, such as purchasing from a garage sale, craigslist, consignment stores, etc. It is very important to know the history of the seat i.e. has it ever been in a crash, recalls/safety issues, all the instructions/labels/components are included, etc. You don’t ever want to put your child’s safety at risk because of the “unknowns.” But if you receive one from someone you trust, know the history and it’s still within the expiration date…go for it.
Be cautious about aftermarket products such as insert padding/head supports, seat protectors and belt positioning devices. These products have the illusion of safety but some may actually impede it. Only use products that come included with the child safety seat such as extra padding, straps and cup holders because these have been crash tested with the car seat.
Anything not secured within a vehicle can become a projectile in the event of a crash. Make sure all items (groceries, purses, laptops, etc) in cargo areas of vans or SUVs are secured by a cover or cargo net to prevent from flying around in a crash. Attachable toys, sun shades, mirrors or anything else with hard parts can also be a hazard to your child. Instead, consider soft toys or cling on window shades.
If you would like assistance in the installation or to make sure your child is properly secured within their safety seat, the Safe Kids Greater Des Moines holds a car seat fit station at Bob Brown Chevrolet (located in Urbandale) on the first Thursday of each month 5-7pm. If that doesn’t work for your schedule, you may also log onto www.blankchildrens.org/cps or contact Kiki at 411 Safety Shop & Training (515-777-3425) to find a certified child passenger technician in your area.