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You are here: Home > Baby > Baby Safety

Car Seat Safety

by Ann E. Butenas |
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Every time I load my three sons, ages 5, 3 1/2 and 2 in the car, I feel like I am engaging in a ritualistic form of exercise. Since I do not have the luxury of a minivan or some other mega-vehicle, I have one car seat and two booster seats side-by-side in the back of my four-door sedan. Therefore, I pick up my two-year-old and place him in the middle car seat, and then I put the 3 1/2 year-old in his booster seat, and finally, I go to assist the five-year-old, who, at the moment, is behind the steering wheel pretending to drive.

After I finally persuade him to get into his booster seat, I buckle him up and then head around to my seat. My five-year-old will not let me leave the driveway unless I have my seat belt on. I buckle myself in and then take a deep breath. If I just have five or six errands to run, I sigh, "Well, I only have to haul the boys in and out that many more times. No wonder my upper arms are so muscular!"

I realize, however, how important it is to keep my boys properly restrained into a safety seat while we are riding in the car. I also realize how important it is for me to set that example by fastening my seat belt and by telling the boys to never, ever unbuckle themselves while in their seats. Tragically, a former college friend of mine was driving on a winding road nearby about three years ago with her triplet daughters, age five, in the back of her van. As she approached a curve, my friend misjudged her speed.

She lost control and her van rolled several times. She was uninjured and two of the triplets suffered minor injuries. However, one of the triplets had unbuckled her seat belt just prior to the accident and was thrown from the van. She died a few days later. That is why I am super-cautious about properly buckling my boys in their safety seat.

Interestingly enough, despite such tragedies as these, I still see parents driving down the road with small children in the car who are not buckled in, or, worse yet, there is no safety seat in the car and the child is just standing up in the back. For anyone who knows anything about the laws of physics, a simple push to the brakes at a minimum speed could send that child flying through the window.

The elementary school which my five-year-old will be attending this fall has random safety belt checks. During these checks, safety officers will stop every vehicle coming to the school parking lot to ensure everyone within the vehicle is properly restrained. It may sound a bit Gestapo in its approach, but I think it is a great idea. We can sometimes get lazy, and it is so important to remember that a simple checking and fitting of the safety seat and belt can save a life. I know it is exhausting at times to load children in and out of the car, but those few minutes of effort will provide immeasurable safety for your children.

The American Academy of Pediatrics has distributed a "One Minute Car Seat Safety Check-Up." Study the following points to ensure your child has a safe ride in your car:

1.) An infant in a rear-facing seat should never be put in a front seat of a vehicle that has a passenger air bag. That bag could deploy and instantly kill the child.

2.) If an older child must ride in the front seat, move that seat as far back as possible from the air bag and properly buckle the child in.

3.) The safest place for all children to ride is in the back seat.

4.) Infants should ride facing the back of the car until they have reach at least one year of age AND weigh at least 20 pounds. A child who weighs over 20 pounds AND is older than one year of age may face forward.

5.) Use a belt-positioning booster seat to help protect the child until he/she is big enough to use a seat belt.

6.) A belt-positioning booster seat is used with a lap and shoulder belt.

7.) Shield boosters, used only with lap belts, are not safe for children over 40 pounds.

8.) Children under 40 pounds should use a forward-facing car seat.

9.) When installing the car seat, make sure it does not move side-to-side or toward the front of the car.

10.) Be sure to read and follow all instructions in the manual that comes with the car seat.

11.) Pull the seat belt through the correct path (check instructions for this!), kneel in the seat to press it down, and then pull the belt tightly.

12.) A convertible seat (one that can face the rear and the front) has two different belt paths: one for infants and one for toddlers.

13.) Check the owner's manual of your car to see if you need to use the locking clip or a tether to keep the safety seat secure.

14.) The shoulder straps in the car seat should go in the lowest slots for infants riding backwards and in the highest slots for children who face forward.

15.) The chest clip should be placed at armpit level to keep the harness straps on the shoulders.

16.) Harnesses should fit snugly against the child's body. Check the instructions for information on adjusting the straps.

17.) Follow the car seat instructions and keep them with the car seat. As your child grows, you will need them.

18.) Be sure to mail in the product registration card that comes with the car seat in case the manufacturer needs to contact you for recalls.

19.) If the car seat has ever been involved in a crash, it might have become weakened and should not be used, even if it looks all right. Get a new one.

All of this may sound overwhelming, but once you get used to it, you can feel confident in the safety of your child as he/she rides in the car.

Another good idea to put to use with the car seat: Write your child's name and age and perhaps some pertinent medical information on a piece of paper and tape it to the back of or underside of the car seat. If you are ever in an accident and not able to speak on behalf of your child, and the child is too young or too injured to speak, those assisting in the rescue efforts can find out your child's name and age, as well as certain medical information and be more effective in their efforts to treat him/her. One would hope this would never have to be used, but it is just one more safety measure to put your mind at ease.

Now, go back your bags and get ready to drive off on that wonderful summer vacation! Did you remember the diapers?

Ann E Butenas is a stay-at-home mom of three preschool-age boys. She has an undergraduate degree in Communications, a post-bachelor paralegal certificate, and a Master's in Business Management. She earned the latter during her first two pregnancies while running an at-home business at the same time. She has been professionally published as a writer since the age of 12.

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