On Wednesday, following a car accident on Kansas Expressway, a 1 year-old was thrown from a vehicle - while still in her car seat. The driver of that vehicle (Cindy Wells, the girl's grandmother) was attempting to turn left onto Hovey Street when she was struck by a northbound car. The child, who was riding in a front-facing car seat, was ejected from the back of the vehicle.
No one seems to understand how such a thing occurred. In an interview with the Springfield News Leader, Wells said: "The only thing we could figure is that the pressure on the seat belt caused the lock to disengage." Miraculously, the child was uninjured. While we don't know the circumstances that caused this unbelievable incident, the proper installation and use of child safety restraints have long been concerns for parents and safety advocates.
When used correctly, car seats can reduce car accident fatalities by 71% for infants and 54% for toddlers (children aged 1 to 4) when compared to seat belts. Accordingly, booster seats can reduce accident injuries by 45% for children aged 4 to 8. In 2009, 31% of children under age 4 who were killed in crashes were completely unrestrained. Shockingly, according to Safe Kids USA, "the overall critical misuse for child restraints is about 73%." Infant seats and rear-facing convertible seats are the most commonly misused devices.
• Make sure you are familiar with Missouri's Child Restraint Law (RSMo 307.182), which requires safety seats for children ages 4 and under (or who weigh less than 40 pounds); and booster seats for children ages 4 to 7 (or who weigh less than 80 pounds or who are shorter than 4'9").
• When you purchase a safety seat, remember to register the product with the manufacturer so you'll receive any pertinent recall information. You can also visit www.recalls.gov.
• Purchasing safety seats secondhand (at yard sales, resale shops, etc.) is a risky endeavor. You have no way of knowing whether or not the seat has been through an accident.
• Babycenter.com stresses the importance of reading both your car seat and vehicle manuals to ensure you install the seat properly. If you're not sure, call the seat manufacturer and/or the automaker. There are also several workshops that teach proper installation (see the resources at the end of this post).
• Safety advocates recommend that all children ride in rear-facing car seats for as long as possible: until they are at least 2 years-old and/or until they exceed the weight or height limits of a particular seat.
• Similarly, after age 2, children should continue using front-facing car seats until they reach the maximum height and weight limits for a particular seat: many front-facing seats place limits at 65 or 80 pounds.
• Booster seats are the next step, and should be used until a regular seatbelt fits properly. Before getting rid of the booster seat, be sure to check that fit: Safekids USA says "the adult lap belt must lie snugly across the upper thighs and the shoulder belt must lie snugly across the shoulders and chest (usually when a child is approximately 4'9" and between 8 and 12 years of age)."
Additional Resources for Parents:
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA): Child Seats: Ease-of-Use Ratings
Safety Belt Safe USA: Safe Ride Helpline for Child Passenger Safety
Seatcheck.org: Connect, Inspect, Protect
DMV.org: How To Install a Child Safety SeatAttorney meetings by appointment only