Keeping kids safe in the car
Car seat safety is instilled in new parents often. We register for car seats on our baby registry. We take our newborns home form the hospital buckled into their car seat carrier. For the most part, car seat safety is ingrained in us early on. As the kids get older, it becomes a bit more confusing and sometimes we become complacent with school aged children. I’d like to go over some things to remember to keep kids safe from birth all the way through adolescence.
New Jersey law says that a child under the age of 2 years and 30 pounds should be secured in a rear facing seat equipped with a five-point harness in the back seat of the vehicle. It is the law to use a rear facing car seat until at least age 2, but you can keep them rear facing even longer through age 3 and 4. The longer you can keep them rear facing, the better. Infants and toddlers should be buckled in a rear facing car seat with a harness, in the back seat, until they reach the maximum weight or height limit of their car seat. This offers the best possible protection for your child in the event of a crash. A rear facing car seat will absorb most of the crash force and supports the head, neck and spine. Since babies and toddlers have disproportionately large and heavy heads, if they are riding forward facing too soon, their heads could get thrown forward in a crash; resulting in neck, head and spinal cord injuries. So what about when my child’s legs are too long? They won’t fit rear facing, will they? While rear facing a tall 2 or 3 year old may seem a bit inconvenient or even uncomfortable, a broken leg is easier to deal with than a head, neck, and/ or spinal cord injury.
When your child outgrows the rear facing car seat (see your car seat manual for height and weight limits for rear facing use), use a forward facing car seat until at least age 5.When children outgrow their rear facing car seats, they should be buckled in a forward facing car seat with a harness, in the back seat of the vehicle. Children should stay in the forward facing car seat until they reach the maximum weight or height limit of this seat. Again, consult the car seat manual or label on the car seat itself.
When your child outgrows their forward facing car seat, now it’s time for a belt positioning booster seat until the car seat buckle fits them properly. Per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), a seat belt fits properly when the lap portion of the belt is across the upper thighs (not on the stomach) and the shoulder belt is across the center of the shoulder and chest (not on the neck or off the shoulder or behind the back). This typically does not occur until children are between the ages of 9–12. The child also should know how to sit up properly in the seat with their back flat against the back of car seat, with knees bent at the edge of the seat and legs down in front of them for the entire duration of the car ride. If your child isn’t ready or cannot sit properly, a high back booster seat may be indicated for longer. When the seat belt fits properly without a booster seat, always use a seat belt on each and every trip. Parents can set a good example by buckling up each and every time and assuring young passengers are as well.
A note about children in the front passenger seat and airbags. The back seat still remains the safest place for a child to sit. Car manufacturers typically design airbags to protect an adult who is about 5 feet tall and roughly 150 pounds. Even if a child is wearing the seat belt correctly when riding in the front seat, they are more likely to sustain injuries from a passenger airbag than an adult, due to the force at which the air bag deploys. Air bags can also kill young children riding in the front seat. The CDC recommends all children under age 12 ride in a back seat. The American Academy of Pediatrics takes this a bit further and says under age 13 should be in the back seat. When in doubt, consult your vehicles owner’s manual regarding the airbags, also using your child’s age, height and weight as a guide. Don’t sacrifice safety for convenience.
Maria H. Drzaszcz, a Hammonton resident, is a registered nurse with 14 years critical care experience and is the proud mom of three young children.