Is your Child as Safe as Possible in the Car?

rear facingAccording to some research from Chicco, the answer may be no. And though I love their car seat, the safety issues have nothing to do with using one brand of car seat over another. It’s all about how that car seat is used.

A survey Chicco recently conducted found that less than 31% of parents are following the car seat manufacturer’s safety guidelines when transitioning their child from rear-facing to forward-facing. That’s less than 1/3 of parents and that is scary. Car seat safety experts recommend that children stay rear-facing as long as possible and switch to forward-facing only once the height or weight limit has been met on the seat, regardless of the minimum age/weight allowed by the law. This is in line with the American Academy of Pediatrics’ recommendation to rear-face until at least age 2 or the limits of the car seats have been met and in line with the research showing that between ages 1 and 2, there is a 532% greater risk of catastrophic neck injury in children forward-facing than those rear-facing. 532%.

In the study, 31% of parents turned their children around because their feet were touching the back of the vehicle seat (the picture above is Eli, with feet on the back of the seat- he looks woefully uncomfortable, no?), 10% turned their children because they were “too uncomfortable”, 8% because they were “fussy” when rear-facing. And most alarming, despite strong evidence that children should rear-face as long as possible, 58% of parents underestimate the age at which it is safe for their child to forward-face. These figures are frightening. Whenever a majority of parents are not following the research or recommendations we need to do something different.

Julie Prom, a Car Seat Safety Advocate at Chicco gave some information on how to keep kids safest in the car. She says plainly that, “rear-facing is safest.” And further that, “The American Academy of Pediatrics and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration recommend rear-facing as long as possible. Parents should keep children rear-fcing until at least 2 years old, longer if the car safety seat weight and height limits allows.” Julie also adds to that, “to ensure a child can stay rear-facing as long as possible, purchase a convertible seat when your baby outgrows the infant seat.”

But rear-facing isn’t the only place parents have a tendency to rush children along. The next transition- from forward-facing to a booster seat is also often rushed before a child is ready or safe. Julie says, “most children younger than 5-years-old are not mature enough to sit without a full harness.” She recommends keeping children harness until age 5 or 6 when a child can sit still through an entire ride, including when they fall asleep. And make sure their belt is positioned correctly across the middle of their shoulder and chest (not neck!) and that their lap belt rests across the lower hips/top of the thighs, not the belly, to prevent internal injuries in a crash.

Another important area of car seat safety that will become important as winter approaches is the danger of bundling a baby or child before putting them in a car seat. Julie says to “avoid bulky clothing and add-on products like car seat buntings. This can interfere with proper harness fit and crash performance of the seat.” I know that it seems like it’s impossible to keep your child warm in the winter, especially some of you out in the tundra, but Julie has a great tip for that too. “A good trick for older children is to buckle them in without their jacket, then put it back on them backwards over the harness. Not only do these techniques ensure proper harness fit, but also voids overheating by allowing the baby to be easily uncovered or the child to take his jacket off once the car gets warmer.

We all want our children to be safe in the car, and hopefully the information that Chicco gathered and with experts like those behind Child Passenger Safety Week, we can make more parents aware of best car seat practices. And once more parents know, we can all do better for our kids.

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