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Summer Seatbelt Safety: For Your Family’s Sake

Everyone wears a seatbeltAs the school year winds down and summer travel plans go into action, families will get in the car and drive all around this great country of ours.   Let’s face it, summer does mean the kids are out of school and usually need someplace to go before they tear the house down and getting in the car and going somewhere, anywhere is usually what happens.   But before you head out in the car this summer, whether it is for the cross country journey or the 5 minute ride to the park, please put on your seat belt.

We have all heard the sayings “Seat Belts Save Lives” or “click it or ticket”.   In 2009 the NHTSA released a study saying that over 1600 lives could be saved each year and over 22,000 serious injuries could be avoided each year if seat belt use rose to 90% in drivers and passengers in automobiles and I am here to tell you that it is more than true.  Having responded to many traffic accidents and seen the results of both wearing and not wearing a seatbelt, I can honestly say that seatbelts do save lives every day.   Let’s be honest.  How long does it take to put on a seatbelt?  A few seconds? , that does not sound too unreasonable to be part of the thousands of lives saved every year does it?.

Many states handle seatbelt laws differently.  Some states require seatbelts and some do not.  Whether your state requires it or not, before we head out onto the roadway let us think about the people in the car shall we?

The Driver – You.  Adults are the WORST offenders about not wearing seatbelts.    When you put your seat belt on, you are keeping yourself safer in case of accident and you also give a good example to the other passengers regardless of age.

The Kids – Kids are always watching us to see how we do things and what is acceptable and if you put on your seatbelt every time you get in the car then the kids will begin to model your behavior and after a while it can become an automatic response from them, no matter what car they get in.  Now smaller children may need help and may require you to click them in properly and safely before yourself.  Infants and smaller children in car seats will obviously need the help but also the children in the booster seats may need some additional help, plus a quick check and tug on the belts they put on by themselves never hurts.

Teenagers – Teenagers are some of the worst offenders of not wearing seatbelts right after adults.   Teenagers have an invincibility about them which is normal but should never be allowed to talk you out of making them put on the seatbelt regardless of the distance of the trip.

Pets –  We do not normally think about our pets when it comes to seal belt time but pets are passengers too and if the pets are coming with us in the car then there needs to be a way to make sure they are secure.   There are a number of pet friendly carries and devices for the car that make this possible.

The bottom line is that seatbelts DO save lives.   I cannot tell you how happy it makes me to look at someone who just had a car accident and tell them “good thing you were wearing your seat belt “.

Have a Great Summer, Be Safe and Buckle Up……..All of you!

Thank You

Photo credit: MoDOT PhotosCC license

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The Facts About Teens in Cars (Infographic)

The following infographic is courtesy of Safe Kids Worldwide. Many teens are texting and riding in cars without seatbelts…and this doesn’t always stop when our teens start driving. Click here to access the research report and find out more about cars and teen safety. Safe Kids Infographic on Teen Driving

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I’m 9 Years Old – Do I Really Still Need a Booster Seat?

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.

Overweight Children are NOT Adequately Protected in Car Seats

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?

JUST RELEASED: New Child Seat Safety Guidelines!

This morning, both the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP)  and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) issued new recommendations for child seats.

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.

Why change now?

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

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