Child passenger safety, keeping kids safe while on the road

Child Passenger SafetyPeople often say it’s not about the destination, it’s about the journey, and when put in the context of child passenger safety, that statement couldn’t be more true. Every journey should be safe. Which is why, in recognition of Child Passenger Safety Week (Sept. 15-21), experts at Seattle Children’s Hospital are urging parents to put safety first when traveling in a vehicle with a child.

According to, car accidents are the number one killer of children ages 1 to 12 in the U.S. From 2007 to 2011, a staggering 3,661 children were killed in car accidents and an additional 634,000 children were injured.

Antwanette Lyons, a community care coordinator from Odessa Brown Children’s Clinic and certified child passenger safety technician and instructor, says the best way to keep young children safe and protected while driving is to ensure they are in the right car seat. When properly fitted, child safety seats can reduce the risk for fatal injury by 71 percent.

“The safest car seat is a seat that fits your child, fits your car and one that you’ll be able to use correctly every time,” said Lyons.

From car seats to booster seats, determining which seat is right for a child can be a challenge, but it can also be life saving.

Tips for choosing the right seat

Find the right fit. Choose a car seat or booster seat based on a child’s age, height and weight. Always read the car seat manufacturer’s instructions, including the height and weight limits, before use.

Read the manufacturer’s instructions. Before installing a car seat, read the vehicle’s owner manual and car seat instruction manual to ensure proper installation.

Car seats fit differently in every vehicle. If a car seat can move more than 1 inch from side to side, the car seat is not properly installed. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), nearly 75 percent of car seats are misused or not properly installed, increasing the likelihood of serious injury or death.

Brittany Blue, community child passenger safety coordinator with Seattle Children’s, advises parents to read the instruction manuals front to back before installing.

“Parents may think that as long as the car seat they install looks like the picture in the instructions manual it’s safe, but that’s not the case,” said Blue. “Knowledge is power when it comes to car seats. To ensure a child’s safety, the seat needs to be installed properly.”

Simple is best. Don’t worry about trying to purchase the most expensive seat. All car seats on the market have been crash tested and passed the basic National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) crash test standards. Inexpensive seats are just as safe as the expensive ones. As long as you can simply install the car seat correctly in your vehicle, it fits your child, and you can use it correctly on each ride, then all is well. All car seats, if properly installed, help ensure safety. Blue advises parents to think simplicity when purchasing a car seat.

“Many times, first time parents want the most expensive car seat, but simple is good,” said Blue.

Read the fine print. All car seats come with labels on the side, back or bottom of the seat. These labels have important manufacturing information like the model number, when the seat was manufactured and when the seat expires. It’s important to know when it is no longer safe to use the seat.

“Discontinue use six years from the manufacturer’s date, or contact the car seat manufacturer for more specifics,” said Blue. “Car seat materials naturally breakdown from exposure to the elements and general wear and tear. All car seats are only meant to withstand one vehicle accident no matter how minimal the impact. Most insurance companies will replace your child’s car seat if it was in an accident. Check with your insurance company for specific details.”

The back seat is the best seat. Children under 13 years old should always sit in the back seat.

Seat restraints by age

Babies: Little ones should ride in the back seat, in a rear-facing car seat until age 2, or until they reach the upper weight or height limit for their seat. For safety, keep a child in a rear-facing car seat as long as possible.

Toddlers and Preschoolers: A child can transition to a forward-facing car seat with a harness when they outgrow the rear-facing weight or height limit listed in the car seat manufacturer’s manual. This usually occurs between the ages of 2 and 4, when a child is between 20 and 40 pounds. Continue to use the forward-facing seat in the back seat.

Kids: A child should be seated in a forward-facing car seat with a harness until they reach the weight or height limit listed in the car seat manufacturer’s manual. Once a child has outgrown the weight limit for a forward-facing car seat, transition to a booster seat.

“4’9” is the magic line,” said Lyons.

All children 8 years old and younger must use a boost seat until they are at least 4 feet 9 inches or 8 years old.

A child should use a booster seat until they are able to wear a seat belt properly. A seat belt should fit snugly across a child’s upper thighs, not stomach, and should fit tight, but comfortably, across the shoulder and chest, not crossing the neck or face. And even though a child may be big enough to wear a seat belt, the back seat is still the best seat for a child.

Remember, no matter the distance, always properly secure a child when driving in a vehicle: 60 percent of car accidents involving children occur 10 minutes or less from home. Unfortunately, according to a recent study by Safe Kids Worldwide, parents don’t always take the necessary time to make sure a child is properly secured in a vehicle. In a survey, one in four respondents said they have driven without their child buckled up in a car seat or booster seat. Surprisingly, 20 percent of parents and caregivers said it was acceptable for a child to ride in a car without a seat belt if they were not driving far.

Car Seat Advocacy at Children’s

Children’s has been advocating for child passenger safety for more than 10 years, with a focus on promoting booster seat use. Since 2005, Children’s has provided low-cost or free booster seats to more than 1,500 children from low-income families in the Seattle area, thanks to the generous support of Schuck’s Auto Supply and the Seattle Mariners.

In addition, Children’s helped form the Washington State Booster Seat Coalition in 1999, through work with Harborview Injury Prevention and Research Center, the Washington Traffic Safety Commission and the Washington State Safety Restraint Coalition. Together, the coalition helped to pass the very first booster seat law in the country in 2000. It also supported a law that updated the booster seat requirements to a minimum height of 4 feet 9 inches, because children under this height are not effectively protected by seat belts.

Car Seat Checks at Children’s

Community outreach is an important component of car seat advocacy. With so many car seats and booster seats on the market, as well as the laws and regulations, it’s no wonder parents feel overwhelmed when it comes to car seat safety.

“We didn’t trust ourselves,” said Ariana Ghasedi, a mother who attended a Children’s car seat safety check in September. “We just wanted to make sure we installed the car seat correctly.”

For those in the Seattle area, join Children’s for the next free safety check on Oct. 19, 2013, at Seattle Children’s Main Campus in the Ocean Parking Garage. Child passenger safety experts will be on hand to check child restraints including booster seats, car seats and seat belts and will be happy to answer questions regarding child passenger safety.