Your kid's in her safety seat, but is she safe?
strides in child safety seats have dramatically cut the number of children killed
in auto accidents -- yet auto accidents remain the No. 1 killer of kids
in America. What's wrong with this picture?
Child safety seats alone have slashed an infant's
chances of dying in a serious car accident by 71 percent, and the risk for children
ages 1 to 4 has been reduced by 54 percent.
But, the experts say, major problems remain
even though 99 percent of infants and 94 percent of toddlers were restrained
last year, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).
The seat is not the problem
The problems lie in the installation of the seats. Parents are doing a good
job of getting their children into the seats, but at least 80 percent are installing
the seats wrong, and those mistakes are often fatal.
A June 2003 report from the Insurance Institute
for Highway Safety shows 12 percent of children involved in fatal crashes died
either because restraints were attached too loosely or not at all. Another 8
percent died after being ejected from their restraints or crashed into cargo
or other occupants.
"People know the importance of child safety, but they aren't
educated on the installation of the seats," says Mary S. Butler, senior
editor of Cars.com.
"They have a false sense of security."
To solve installation problems, improvements have been made both
in seats and in the hardware that anchors them to the vehicle. In 1999, top
tethers became mandatory for forward-facing child restraints to prevent excessive
forward movement in an accident. Last year, a federal law called LATCH (Lower
Anchors and Tethers for Children) required all new cars to have special anchors,
and all new infant and child restraints to be equipped with upper and lower
attachments that easily fit into those anchors.
"Using the correct safety seat for your children and installing
it correctly is essential in keeping them safe," says Karl Brauer, editor-in-chief
"But many of us don't want to read instruction manuals."
Simple steps to safety
Brauer offers the following three steps to correct installation:
- Compress the vehicle seat cushion by pressing down on the
- Remove slack from the lap part of the belt, then buckle it
- Test the lap belt to make sure it is locked and won't gradually
You should check your child's safety seat every day to make sure
it stays stable. A properly installed seat should not wobble, pivot or slide
from side to side, says Brauer, who gives the following tips to check your installation:
- Rear-facing seats: Grip
the top edge and try to push it into the seat cushion. The back of the seat
should stay firmly in place; although some properly installed seats may swivel
a few inches from side to side, which is normal.
- Forward-facing seats: Grip the
top of the seat and try to tilt it forward and sideways. If it moves more
than an inch, try another seating position.
- Booster seats: Make sure
they sit flat on the bottom of the vehicle's seat and firmly against the seat
Here are more tips to keep your child safe in the car:
- Put all children 12 years and under in the back
seat. Not only are back seats safer during a crash, children in back
seats are protected from injury when air bags deploy.
- Learn how to install your child's seat in all the cars they
ride in."Parents often treat them as portable appliances," Butler
says. "They are kind of like a diaper bag -- they go where the child goes."
- Make sure the other drivers your child rides with use child
restraints at all times and know how to install them properly. "The parents
may be educated in the installation, yet they are handing off the children
to baby sitters and grandparents who might not know how to install the seats
properly," Butler explains.
- Avoid buying and using older seats. Pass on garage sale buys,
suggests Brauer. Not only might the seat be missing some of its parts or instructions,
materials become fragile with age. Also, safety seats are constantly being
improved and laws are being changed. Even if you have a seat your older child
used, you should get a new seat if you have a new baby and the safety seat
is more than 4 years old.
- Never use a safety seat that's been involved in an accident,
even if you can't see any damage.
- Mail in the seat's registration card, so you can be notified
if the seat is involved in a product recall.
Infant and toddler child safety seats can be purchased individually,
but many parents prefer to buy a convertible seat that
will meet a child's growing needs. The average price of a child safety
seat is $200, says Brauer, although you can pay much more or much less. "The
less expensive seats are usually only good for either front-facing or rear facing.
They are not convertible," he says "The more expensive models grow
with the child." To check out the safety of the seat you use for your child
or one you are considering purchasing, go to NHTSA's
And one last thing: After you purchase
a car safety seat, check with your insurance company. "When I bought
seats, I sent my insurance company a copy of the receipts, and they sent me
a refund that was about half the price of the seat," says Brauer.
Sylvia Booth Hubbard is a freelance
writer in Mississippi.
-- Posted: Sept. 23, 2003