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Keeping Your Little Travelers Safe

(February 2002)

Despite progress in car safety and child restraint systems, automobile accidents are still the number one killer of children older than a year, according to statistics from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). To raise awareness, the NHTSA has adopted February 10 through 16 as National Child Passenger Safety Week. The goal is to educate caregivers on the proper way to keep the littlest travelers safe.

Safety Problems

Eight out of 10 kids are not restrained correctly as parents make errors when installing child safety seats. Just a little mistake in how the seat is used could cause serious injury to a child.

Biggest problems include:

  • Safety seat not belted into the vehicle tightly.
  • Safety seat harness straps not snug.
  • Safety seat harness retainer clip not at armpit level.
  • Lack of booster seats for older kids (the theme to this year's safety week).
With so many different child safety seat and automobile models, it's difficult to determine which is best. What's worse is that many safety seats are incompatible with some vehicles, making it difficult to install and use certain seats properly.

Safety Fixes

Thankfully, an easier-to-install model called LATCH (Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children) is on the way. With the LATCH system, the child safety seat is installed without using the vehicle's seat belt system. By September 2002, all new vehicles will have standard LATCH-friendly hardware located in the seats, and all child safety seats will have the proper attachments. For older vehicles, the new child seats can also be used with the seat belt to secure the seat (as is done now).

Important guidelines for child passenger safety are:

  • Rear-Facing Child Seats for children from birth to at least one year of age and at least 20 pounds.

  • Forward-Facing Child Seats for children over 20 pounds to about 40 pounds and at least one year of age.

  • Belt-Positioning Booster Seats for children over 40 pounds to about 80 pounds and four feet, nine inches tall.

  • Seat Belts for older children large enough for the belt to fit correctly, which is at least four feet, nine inches tall and about 80 pounds.

  • All children under 100 pounds should sit in the back seat due to powerful front seat airbags.
Booster Seats For Older Kids

Many children, especially those between four and eight years old, aren't using restraints that offer the most protection in an accident. Booster seats are needed to make adult-size safety belts work properly. Without the booster seat, the safety belt is positioned incorrectly over the stomach and across the neck, and could cause serious injury in an accident. Currently, seven states have booster seat laws: Arkansas, California, New Jersey, Oregon, Rhode Island, South Carolina, and Washington.

There are several recommended types of booster seats on the market, including the high-back belt-positioning booster seat and backless belt-positioning booster seat. Seat belt positioning devices are not recommended by NHTSA because they pull the lap belt up onto the child's stomach.

Vacationing

Taking a vacation doesn't mean taking time off from car seats. Bring child seats with you. If you can't, rental car companies provide booster and child safety seats for a small fee.

If you are flying, it's important to restrain your children properly. Parents can either sit kids under two in their laps for free or purchase a seat at the child's fare and use a safety seat. While no airline can insist on safety seats, it is much safer to use them. According to the Association of Flight Attendants (AFA), nine "lap" kids were killed on U.S. flights from 1978 to 1994. Five would have lived had they been in safety seats.

Most child safety seats on the market today are certified for air travel (check the label). Safety seats are recommended for use in window seats, but are prohibited in exit rows and the rows directly in front of and behind the over-wing emergency exits. Booster seats are not allowed at all, as the design of the plane's reclining seat backs and tray tables, and the lack of shoulder belts, make it dangerous to use harnesses and booster seats.

For further information on child passenger safety, please see:

National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA): Offers materials explaining key issues in child passenger safety, including safety seat recalls, technician locators, and fitting inspection stations.

American Academy of Pediatrics Family Shopping Guide to Car Seats

Boost America: Ford Motor Company and 29 leading national organizations created Boost America, a highway safety campaign designed to send the message to parents and children that booster seats are the safe and fun way to ride in a vehicle.

National SAFE KIDS Campaign : This national organization is dedicated solely to the prevention of unintentional childhood injury.

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