Selecting child safety seats: an investment in your child’s future

Motor vehicle collisions are the leading cause of unintentional injury deaths in the United States, and they make up about 42% of childhood injury-related deaths of kids from infancy to 14 years of age.

A 1999 study by the National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration (NHTSA) revealed 64% of children age 15 and younger who were killed in motor vehicle collisions were unrestrained.

Moreover, child seats are 71% effective in reducing deaths for infants, 54% effective in reducing deaths for toddlers; and 69% effective in reducing the need for hospitalization.

So it is extremely important parents choose the proper child seat which works best for them, their child, and with their vehicle to ensure they use the child seat every time the child rides in a vehicle.

An expectant mother can start protecting her child in a vehicle even before he or she is born by always buckling up. They should make sure to fasten the lap belt across their pelvis and upper thighs (not over the abdomen) and wear the shoulder belt over their shoulder, across their chest, and to the side of their belly.

The shoulder belt should NEVER be worn under the arm or behind the back; it is not designed to work this way and could cause additional injuries.

They should also be observant of the air bag deployment zone, which is ten inches from the air bag. One wouldn’t want their belly too close to where the air bag will open.

When driving, the steering wheel should be tilted towards the chest; passengers should sit as far back as possible from the air bag. If concerns about the air bag exist, the back seat is a safe place for adults, too.

When selecting a car seat for their first child, one important aspect to remember is children will go through two or three different types of car seats before they turn five.

There are different seats for different stages of a child’s growth, taking their weight and their seated height into account. Even though buying different seats through the years can get costly, you cannot put a price on the delicate life of a child.

The expense of car seats can add up; many retailers offer lay-away plans that are sure to ease the expense over time with a little pre-planning.

Rear-facing only seats, commonly known as infant seats, are very popular because they make it easy to carry the baby around outside of the vehicle. Some models have a detachable base which remains secured in the vehicle, making the seat portion easy to snap in and out of the vehicle. These seats are generally to be used from birth to 20 or 30 pounds (depending on manufacturer instructions), and they can only be used until the top of baby’s head is within one inch of the top of the shell.

Infants MUST ride rear facing until they are BOTH at least one year old AND weigh 20 pounds since the bones in their neck and spine are not fully formed. If an infant, either under one year old or less than 20 pounds, is involved in a collision while facing forward, they can suffer serious injury, paralysis, or death.

So if your child outgrows their infant seat before they are one year old (which happens very often), you will need to get them a “convertible” child seat and continue using it in the rear-facing position. Because the rear-facing position provides the most protection, children should be left rear facing as long as possible, even after they are one year and weigh 20 pounds.

Don’t be concerned if their legs are longer than the seat, they’ll make do. Their safety in a collision outweighs any possible discomfort.

Convertible child seats can be used either rear facing or forward facing. Convertible seats are usually rated from birth to 40 pounds; therefore, they can be used from baby’s first ride through the toddler and preschool years.

There are different weight ranges for rear facing and forward facing, so be sure to check the manufacturer’s recommendations. Remember, the forward-facing position should be used ONLY for children who are at least one year old AND weigh at least 20 pounds.

Forward-facing seats/high-back booster seats can be used with their internal harness until the child reaches 40 pounds, then the harness can be removed and the seat can be used as a booster seat with the vehicle’s lap and shoulder belt.

Weight ranges may vary depending on the manufacturer, but generally these forward-facing seats are rated from 20 to 40 pounds with the internal harness and 40 to 80 pounds as a booster with the vehicle’s lap and shoulder belt.

Backless booster seats are designed to only be used with your vehicle’s lap and shoulder belt system. The backless booster weight range is usually 40 to 80 pounds, although some manufactures design their boosters for children up to 100 pounds, so be sure to read the labels.

Since seatbelts are designed to be used by adults and not children, for the seatbelt to work properly, a child weighing 40 to 80 pounds should have a booster seat.

Some vehicles have integrated child seats or harnesses built into their passenger seats. While there is nothing wrong with these seats/harnesses, parents need to be aware the integrated seats and harnesses are ONLY for forward-facing children; infants, either less than one year old or less than 20 pounds, still need to be in a rear-facing child seat. Be sure to check the vehicle’s owner’s manual for weight ranges for the harnesses and integrated seats.

A new car seat innovation in the past few years has been LATCH, Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children.

You may have seen the anchors on the rear window shelf and in between the seat back and seat cushion of newer vehicles. Newer child seats also come with special straps and fittings to attach to these anchors.

Since September, 2002, all new child restraints have been outfitted to attach to the LATCH system, and all vehicles under 8500 pounds manufactured since that time have been equipped with the LATCH system.

The purpose of this new system is to standardize vehicles and child seats to make child seats easier for people to properly install. The new system also eliminates the need to use the vehicle’s seatbelt to install the child seat.

To use LATCH, instead of running the vehicle’s seatbelt through the child seat, the lower attachments of the child seat are hooked to the lower anchors in the vehicle seat and tightened snugly. Then the top tether strap is attached to the upper tether anchor. (The vehicle owner’s manual will have information on the vehicle’s LATCH system.)

After you buy your child a new car seat, be sure to read the manufacturer’s instructions thoroughly so you don’t miss any important information about installation or your child’s safety.

Also send in the product registration card as soon as possible. This card registers your seat with the manufacturer so if there are any problems or recalls on the seat, the manufacturer can notify you of the problem and how to correct it or replace your seat.

With the large amount of time children spend in the car, the high speeds at which people travel, and the uncertainty of other drivers, the safety of child passengers should be paramount. Developing the seatbelt habit now will take your children into their teenage years and beyond.

You wouldn’t let your child cross a busy street unless it was safe, why let them ride in a vehicle without the same protection?

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