My son doesn’t want to use a booster seat anymore. I can see his perspective: none of his friends use one any longer and he thinks the seat belts in our cars fit him just fine. So why bother?? Because he’s just nine. And because crash studies and child safety guidelines from experts like the American Academy of Pediatrics indicate that he still needs to be using one. Although he thinks he’s so smart and grown up, he’s just a kid – and I’m the parent. And I actually know what it feels like to be injured in a car crash.
Guidelines issued by the American Academy of Pediatrics in 2011 recommend that kids use a booster seat until they are at least 4’9” tall (57 inches) and weigh between 80 and 100 pounds. This will likely be around the ages of 8-12 years. But it’s the physical dimensions that matter most. Kids need to be large enough to fit properly in the seatbelt – and mature enough to ride without slouching down and defeating the whole purpose of the belts. Focusing on the age of the child to guide booster seat decisions can be misleading. Last spring – at 9-years of age – my son measured in the 75th percentile for both weight and height at his annual pediatric visit (meaning he was taller and heavier than 75% of other nine-year olds)….and he STILL DIDN’T meet the criteria for graduating from a booster seat – he’s not yet 4’9” and weighs only just over 80 lbs. So why are we in the minority in our community in still using a booster seat?
The problem is that many state laws – and therefore local communications about what constitutes safe car travel for older kids – haven’t caught up to these recommendations (click here for a summary of state laws on child passenger safety). Many states – like Alabama, Colorado, Iowa and Nebraska (to name just a few) focus exclusively on age – without the all-important height and weight requirements. This list includes my state of Indiana which allows children over age seven to shelve the booster seat, no matter how big they are. My son’s best friend – also nine – stopped using a booster seat last year. He’s fully THREE INCHES shorter than my son. How can he possibly be safely restrained by an adult seat belt during a crash? And this isn’t just a theoretical issue. Safe Kids USA reports that children seated in a booster seat in the rear of the car are 45% less likely to be injured in a crash as compared to those using a seat belt alone.
While this is bad enough, some states – like Florida, Arizona and South Dakota don’t even have booster seat laws. In these states it is legally permissible for children as young as age 4 and 5 to use adult seat belts. Is there some reason why the children in these states are less likely to be involved in a traffic accident – or that they are somehow more resilient in a car crash?
Let’s face it – the process of proposing and passing laws is complicated and time-consuming. Hopefully all these states will eventually get on par with the guidelines, joining states like Georgia and Maine. However, in the meantime it’s our children riding in the back seat and I would rather base my car safety approach on best-practice guidelines than rely on the timeline and politics of my state judicial process.
So, in our house the 4’9” rule prevails. We even got out the measuring tape recently and determined my son has an inch to go. He’s counting down every day. And he understands that I’m following new expert recommendations to keep him safe – and that his friends’ parents probably just aren’t aware of these guidelines, which is too bad.
For the past ten years, the news media has consistently focused our attention on the fact that obesity is on the rise; that it has become a major problem in the United States, and that childhood obesity, in particular, has put young children at-risk for a multitude of health-related issues.
One surprising health-related issue stems from the fact that many infants and toddlers are being transported in car seats that are not safe for them to be riding in, and I am not referring to the improper installation of those seats. The problem I AM referring to is the fact that when car seats are crash-tested, the crash-dummies that are used to simulate the effects of an accident impact do not reflect the overweight child population being transported.
With so many young obese children today, common sense should dictate that the crash-dummy’s weight and dimensions more closely match that of the children using the car seats being tested.
In an article on the ThirdAge.Com website, March 29, 2011, under Boomer Health and Lifestyle, Katherine Rausch highlights a problem that although acknowledged for some time, has been awaiting a solution since 2004, but researchers have not come up with a product. The National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration is using smaller adult version dummies for child crash-testing. Why? According to a recent article in the Washington Post, it’s because crash test dummies are expensive to develop and funding is not readily available to develop larger “life-like” child test dummies. This leaves child safety seat manufacturers self-regulating their own products. It also means that seats made just a few years ago to hold 65lb children are now marketed for those up to 85lbs.
It appears that heavier-weight crash-dummies have been in development for adults for decades now. Why haven’t overweight children been given the same attention?
With so many recent news reports about the American Academy of Pediatrics’ and NHTSA’s “new safety seat guidelines”, are we deluding ourselves into thinking our kids are safe?
The new guidelines advise parents to…
- Keep toddlers in rear-facing car seats until they reach two years of age or until they reach the highest weight or height allowed by their car safety seat’s manufacturer.
- Most children will need to remain in a booster seat until they have reached 4 feet 9 inches tall and are between 8 and 12 years old. The booster seat’s shoulder belt should lie across the middle of the chest and shoulder, not near the neck or face. The lap belt should fit low and snug on the hips and upper thighs, not across the belly.
- Children should ride in the rear of a vehicle until they reach 13 years old
According to Dennis Durbin, MD, FAAP, lead author of the AAP policy statement, the new guidelines are based on the latest scientific and medical research which indicate that: “A rear-facing child safety seat does a better job of supporting the head, neck and spine of and toddlers in a crash, because it distributes the force of the collision over the entire body…For larger children, a forward-facing seat with a harness is safer than a booster, and a belt-positioning booster seat provides better protection than a seat belt alone until the seat belt fits correctly.”
According to NHTSA Administrator David Strickland, “while all car seats sold in the U.S. must meet federal child restraint safety standards, selecting the right seat was a challenge for many parents”. The “room for interpretation” in the 2002 guidelines plus the huge variety of car safety seats on the market often left parents with more questions than answers. The result: children were transitioning from one stage of car safety seat to the next, far too early to be truly considered “safe”.
New research findings, however are clear. Children under age 2 are safer in rear-facing car seats. Children under age 2 are 75% less likely to die or be severely injured in a crash if they are rear-facing. The hope of both NHTSA and the AAP is that issuing these new requirements will simplify the selection process and make it easier for parents to choose the “best” car seat for their child.
For more information:
- For guidance from the AAP to help parents choose the most appropriate car safety seat for their child, click here
- For a detailed list of car safety seats, including the height and weight limitations for each, click here
- For state-specific child passenger safety laws, click here
- For a copy of the NHTSA “Car Seat Recommendations for Children” poster (above), click here
Hi! I’m Bruce Mather, the inventor of the SeatSnug which enhances the safety and comfort of children in car booster seats. How did I end up inventing a new child safety device? Because I like to drive fast. Very fast. Let me explain.
Some people take golf lessons. Some people take tennis lessons. I take driving lessons. Like millions of others, I enjoy driving my car very fast and I take my every day car out on a racetrack to do so, where a professional driver coaches me on how to drive even faster.
As I’m sure you know, race car drivers use multi-point harnesses in their cars for better driving control and for safety. But, because I was using the car I drove to work in every day as my race car, it was not convenient to put harnesses in it. Unfortunately, this meant I was sliding around all the time at the track, and not able to control the car as well as I would like because the car’s seat belt allows looseness to develop in the lap belt while riding.
So I invented the CG-Lock to hold me in the seat, yet keep the car unmodified. The CG-Lock is a small, palm sized device that easily clips onto the buckle part of your seat belt. What it does is allow you to lock the lap belt portion of your seat belt from gentle to very tight. Think of an aircraft seatbelt. You buckle it up, and pull on the loose end to make the lap belt as tight as you want. That’s what the CG-Lock does, except it does it with a seat belt that also has a shoulder belt portion. You buckle your seatbelt and pull up on the shoulder belt to make the lap belt as tight as you want. The shoulder belt is unaffected, so you can stretch and reach as usual. After all, this is your daily driver. The lap belt stays as tight as you have set it until you unbuckle or push a lever that releases the tension.
So how did this turn into a child safety device? Because of a rule: when sports car drivers take driving instruction, both the driver’s and the passenger’s seats must be equipped identically. This means that a sports car driver using a CG lock for better control, must also put one on the instructor’s seat. Since most of these cars are driven daily, moms use the cars too. And some of the moms began writing us how much of an improvement in stability and comfort the CG-Lock provided. They suggested that the CG-Lock could be used to more safely secure children in booster seats and older children who are not safely secured by the seat belt itself.
When I looked into this unexpected use for the CG-Lock, I found there was a big need to improve booster seat safety. Booster seats rock and tip, allowing looseness or slack to develop in the lap belt portion of the seatbelt. This not only makes the seat rock more and sometimes even fall over, but it allows the child to slouch. This is dangerous. In the event of an accident, a loose lap belt can ride up over the abdomen of the child causing severe injury. Abdominal injuries are the most common injuries for children in booster seats after an accident. Further, a loose lap belt can allow a child to submarine under the belt or to be thrown against the side of the vehicle or to be ejected. A slouching child also allows the seat belt to be out of position when an accident occurs and to not be properly positioned to take optimum advantage of the safety equipment in the vehicle.
So it looked like the CG-Lock was a great product for child safety. But when I tested it with a larger number of moms, I found that most did not like the look, weight, or attachment method. To meet moms’ needs, I needed to completely redesign the CG-Lock…I did, and called it SeatSnug. Now it gets really interesting!
Using a modified version of the government’s child car seat crash test protocol, and an instrumented six year old sized “crash test dummy” at 30 miles an hour, I found that the G forces on a child would be about 7 Gs less at the chest and 11 Gs less at the hips when SeatSnug is added to the seatbelt! Wow! These were amazing improvements in the safety potential measurements. In addition, with only a gentle tightening, the lap belt always stays low across the upper thighs and hips of the child (exactly where the government and child car seat manufacturers recommend). This gentle tightening restricts the booster seat from rocking or tipping to make the child more comfortable too. I’ve even received testimonials that the reduced bouncing reduces car sickness. Finally, a snugged lap belt means the child is sitting up straight at all times, which is the optimum position for absorbing the energy in the event of a crash.
Most parents, like me during track days, probably thought the manufacturer-supplied seatbelts found in cars today are sufficient for providing the safest possible situation for their children. Not true! As I soon found out, standard, comfortable, one-size-fits-all seatbelts alone can’t offer maximum protection to occupants, including small children. SeatSnug solves that problem and enhances both safety and comfort for children.
Parents’ and Grandparents’ awareness of the problem, and the SeatSnug solution, is JUST starting to grow and I am very proud of the acceptance our devices are receiving. Now, our CG-Lock is widely used by the motion picture industry during the performance of dangerous driving scenes to enhance driving control and safety. I like to think if the CG-Lock is good enough for James Bond, it should be something every parent would want in every vehicle to protect their loved ones.
To help raise awareness that you CAN do more to protect your children, Lap Belt Cinch, Inc. announced the SeatSnug “Snug Up America” campaign – a major nationwide children’s safety campaign aimed at promoting greater child passenger safety and awareness. To join SeatSnug in helping to raise awareness by educating others on child passenger safety issues visit www.seatsnug.com and click on the “Snug Up America” button to see how you can make a difference.
About Booster Seats:
Children of booster seat age and/or weight should ride in a booster seat in the rear seat. To locate the age and weight requirements for your state, visit
Check out booster seats to make certain they properly fit your child.
Always buckle up children in booster seats with the seatbelt. Make certain that the shoulder strap properly fits across a child’s chest, over the shoulder and not across the neck. Visit safekids.org for the “safety belt fit test”.
For an instructional video on how to best secure your child in a booster seat, click here.
Travis is in the Air Force and we were stationed at Scott AFB in Illinois for quite some time. Illinois was the only place Noah had ever lived…but he was used to moving. We had to move several times from one house to another. This time it was from one house on base (that was scheduled to be renovated) to a brand new house that had just been built down the road. We were all excited, we had never lived in a brand new house before nor one so big. Noah was worried about how we were going to get all of our stuff to the “Empty House”.
Looking back in my memory files, I realize that I don’t have a lot of memory of the day of the accident. Not of the little stuff. I don’t even remember what day of the week it was.
Thursday I think. July 26, 2007.
There was a buzz in the air that morning. Everyone was excited. Noah just celebrated his 5th birthday the day before, and he was anxious to play with his new scooter. I had a lot of things to do. Noah had some birthday cake for breakfast. Sure! Why not. I didn’t want to fuss and argue that day. Happy as a lark he was.
I filled up the back of the van with boxes of kitchen stuff to bring to the new house. Noah added a couple of things to put in his new room. The girls helped. I brought several loads of small things down to the new house that morning…setting everything up just right. The bigger stuff would come later when Travis could get off work and we could rent a truck.
I remember backing into the double garage with a little bit of difficulty because the driveway was curved. I didn’t think much about it. I couldn’t bring much in the van because everything had to be weighed so we could get paid from the Air Force for this move. So I headed back home where all the kids in the Cul-de-sac were playing. It was a beautiful, sunny day.
All the kids got out of the road. I had my windows rolled down and I could hear the older kids shout, “Car”. Everyone would dart into the yards and wait for the car to go by and park. They had a good system going.
I backed the van up to the house and parked it. Noah was playing on his new bright colored scooter. I walked down the driveway to check the mail and saw Noah at the top of the driveway, beside the van getting ready to take off like a rocket down my way towards the road. I ran up beside him and gave him a “Smoochie” and told him “I love you.” “Thanks Mom” he said, and away he went. I will be forever glad I said that to him.
The girls were fussing in the house. That was nothing unusual. We were watching a friend’s dog. I had forgotten about that until just now. Lucky was the dogs name, and he happened to be hanging out at our place so I didn’t have to go back and forth to let him out. This is where I draw a blank some.
I just remember after coming home, that I went upstairs in my room and lay down in bed. I was tired already, and the thought of all the work ahead of me for that day made me even more tired. My ear bothered me. It was plugged and in a little pain. I thought I was getting an ear infection.
Travis came home. Noah was excited and followed him up the stairs to where I was. He wanted to talk about the money he got for his birthday. $30.00 is a lot of money to a 5 year old. I heard Noah tell his dad…” You know dad I’m richer than YOU! I have a Million Dollars!” Travis asked him what he was going to do with that Million Dollars. Noah said he was going to buy Orange Tic-Tacs – his favorite treat to get when he went to the Shoppette with his Dad. We all got a great laugh out of that. Noah climbed on the bed with me, and Travis started changing his cloths. Sooner or later Noah was told to go play outside.
Travis and I made plans to go get the truck. Travis knew of a place to rent trucks in the town, not too far away. I kind of dreaded getting up off the bed, because I really didn’t feel well. But I did. I was excited to move into the new house, and there was a lot to be done. I told the girls that we were going to go get the truck, and that I would have to drive the Van so their dad could drive the truck back. I was outside by the van when I asked Beth if she would watch Noah. She didn’t want to and Noah wanted to go with us. I was perfectly fine with him going with us. I didn’t mind at all. It shouldn’t take long after all.
Noah was excited. He was dressed in new cloths that he got from Gramma, and told me after he got buckled into his seat that he “Looked Hot”. Something he undoubtedly picked up from his sisters.
When we pulled into the truck rental place I wondered if the place even rented trucks, because it looked more like a place that just had storage units to rent. I didn’t see any trucks. The parking lot was covered with white rocks. They crunched when I drove over them and parked. Travis got out and went in to do business.
Noah hummed and chattered away behind me in his car seat. It was taking longer than he thought it should so he unbuckled his seat-belt and walked up to stand next to me while I was sitting in the driver’s seat. Noah asked where we were, and I told him this is the place where we are going to borrow a truck so we can take all our stuff to the new empty house. Satisfied with that he wanted to go in and be with his Dad. I told him that was fine, and I would watch him walk to the door. He went in and I called my mother on the phone to tell her that we were moving that day, and we talked a little bit. I saw Travis come out of the building. There was a vehicle on both sides of the van so I couldn’t see Travis after a couple of seconds. I figured Noah was with Travis, happily trotting behind him.
Some time went by and I saw Travis driving the moving truck in my rear-view mirror. I thought they were ready to go because it looked like Travis was setting up the truck to pull out into traffic. I assumed that Noah was in the truck with Travis. But Travis had told him to go wait by the doors to the building. I told my mother that I had to go, because Travis was getting ready to leave. I snapped my cell-phone shut and threw it in the empty seat next to me. I put the van in reverse, threw my arm over the passenger side seat and backed out of the parking spot by looking out the back window.
I heard a bump. I thought it sounded like I ran over a box, but I thought to myself I hadn’t gotten out of the van to put a box behind the van. Suddenly I realized what might have happened, quickly, faster than I could ever explain, I threw the van in drive and parked it again in the spot it was in. Terrified, I jumped out of the van and ran to the back of it. I could hear Travis screaming “NO” as he got out of the truck.
Noah was laying on his belly with his head turned to the left side on the hot rocks that made the parking lot. I tried to pick Noah up, but Travis screamed for me not to. Noah was then on his back, unconscious. I ran into the building where I screamed for someone to call 911! I couldn’t speak anything but that. “My son has been hurt, call 911”
I know someone called, I remember seeing them calmly talking on the phone, but I couldn’t calm down. Travis stayed with Noah, shading his head from the sun. I could not compose myself and ended up crumpled on the floor in the building screaming.
It seemed like it took a very long time for the ambulance to come. I couldn’t watch when they did get there. I was far too out of it. I know they took Noah into the ambulance and they were breathing for him and doing what they could until the helicopter got there. Again it seemed to take a long time. I didn’t feel like we had this kind of time to waste waiting…Something had to be done. I tried to go in the ambulance to keep an eye on my boy, but the police officer wouldn’t let me. He told me it would be better for Noah if I was not in there while I was so upset. I went back into the building. I think I passed out. Blood was on the walls. My glasses were gone. A police officer came in and talked to me. I remember telling him that I didn’t see Noah. I didn’t know he was there! He tried to comfort me, but I think I was beyond needing a pat on the back. I heard the helicopter coming. Before it landed in the road, I tried to see Noah again. The officer standing by the ambulance still would not let me get in.
Quickly they moved Noah from the ambulance to the helicopter and away he went to Childrens hospital in St. Louis. I was left feeling panicked with a strong need to GO! I needed to GO to the hospital. But we could not drive because Both Travis and I were too upset. Someone from Travis’s office came to drive us to the hospital. By this time, almost everyone who needed to know what happened knew. The drive to the hospital was painfully long. I just cried.
When we got to the hospital I plowed through the front doors, Travis was behind me with my purse. I didn’t even realize I had gone through a security check point until Travis told me to wait up. I just needed to get to my son! I asked someone where Noah Allen was. They knew who he was and were expecting us. I remember being led to a small waiting room. No one else was in there. It was quiet…just Travis and myself. I sunk to the floor. Travis stood crying. I didn’t want to be in that room. I couldn’t believe what just happened. I don’t know how much time had passed when someone came in and gave us an update, and told us that Noah was in a coma. I was somehow relieved that at least he was sleeping and not feeling any pain. She took us to the trauma room where they were working on Noah. They were getting him ready to have a CT scan done, and bring him into surgery.
My poor boy lay there on that bed, a nurse breathing for him, and other nurses and doctors rushing around fussing over things I couldn’t even begin to understand. I felt better that I was with Noah. I had decided that he was going to be OK. And we are just going to have a long road of recovery. He might never be the same, but at least I would still have my son.
I don’t remember if they took him away, or if we were taken out of the room. A nurse approached me and asked if I was Dawn Allen. Just like in the movies, I started crying. I thought she was going to tell me that Noah had passed away. I didn’t recognize her as one of my friends until she told me who she was. She just happened to be working in the ER that day. It was time to go to another waiting room on another floor because Noah was going into surgery. The next thing I remember is being wheeled out of a different ER room where I was admitted as a patient. Evidently in the elevator on our way up to the next floor I passed out.
When Travis wheeled me out of the room there were a lot of people from the base there to support us. I remember seeing them and feeling comforted by the fact that they were all there. Everyone introduced themselves. I remember that most everyone were Pastors, Fathers, and the such. We were waiting to talk to the doctor. We didn’t wait very long. The doctors came in the room still in their surgical garb.
The only thing I remember is one doctor telling Travis and I was that Noah was a very sick little boy. Everything after that is a blur. Noah was in Children’s ICU, being kept alive with life support.
During the next couple of days family showed up from out of state, and we had a huge amount of support from the base, and the local church we attended. There were always two people at the hospital with us for the whole time we were there…sometimes more. I hardly left Noah’s bed, as his body continually got worse.
Finally on Saturday, July 28th 2007, tests had shown that Noah’s brain was no longer functioning. We had life support turned off. Family and friends gathered around his bed. Noah’s “million dollars” and his Orange Tic-Tacs lay next to him. We all said our goodbye’s.
We had two funerals for Noah. One was for our Air Force family and our Church family in Illinois. Then the next day Noah’s body was flown to Maine for his final funeral at his grave side. This is where I draw a blank. I have almost no memory for about 6 months after we had the life support turned off. I rely on what my family and friends tell me happened. Travis remembers it all. He was/is my rock. Travis had to make the arrangements. I was useless with grief and guilt and the desire to end my life. I do remember feelings more than I remember events. I remember I hated waking up. It meant I was still alive.
To this day – two years and 7 months later, I still struggle. I have terrible memory problems, major depressive episodes, guilt, hallucinations and super anxieties. Sometimes I feel as though I am a terrible burden to my family. Travis is still my foundation…my rock. We share a bond stronger than ever. I am so blessed to have him.
I am told I am my own worst enemy. No charges were ever brought upon me because it clearly was a horrible accident. Guilt and sorrow are overwhelming at times, and there are still times when I wish someone would run over me and I could be done with this world and go to my baby boy in Heaven, Lord willing.
For now, until I can meet with my son again I have sentenced myself to life.
Note from Pediatric Safety: Our love and support go out to Dawn and her family…and we are grateful to her for sharing her story to help others. Tragedies like this happen way too often. For more information and how you can help, please visit http://www.kidsandcars.org