Motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death and injury for American children, ranking ahead of all other types of unintentional injuries, and claiming more lives than any childhood disease.
If left unrestrained, infants and children are thrown around the vehicle like flying missiles. In a 30–mph crash, children may be thrown forward with a force equal to 30 times their own weight, (i.e., 10 lb. infant x 30 mph = 300 lbs of force.) That's like falling from a three–story building!
What types of child safety seats are available?
INFANT-ONLY SEATS are designed for babies weighing up to 22 pounds (generally 9–12 months of age). Infant safety seats should be installed to face the rear of the vehicle only, and are secured by the vehicle safety belt or LATCH system. Infants under 1 year of age must ride in a rear–facing position.
CONVERTIBLE SEATS are designed for use by infants and toddlers. They can be used in a rear-facing position for infants up to 20 lbs or in the forward-facing position for toddlers up to 40 lbs (about 4 years of age). Convertible seats are available in three basic styles: 5-point harness, T-shield and tray shield. Typically, those with a harness system fit small infants best.
BELT POSITIONING BOOSTER SEATS are intended for older children. The seat is used as a transition from a toddler/convertible seat to the adult safety belt. These booster seats offer the best upper body protection for children weighing from about 40 to 80 pounds.
INTEGRATED CHILD SAFETY SEATS are intended for toddlers. They are built into the seat of the vehicle. Refer to the vehicle owner's manual for instruction and recommended use of the integrated seat.
Buying the correct child safety seat won't protect your child if you don't install it properly. Read the child safety seat manufacturer's instructions and the vehicle owner's manual before you install the seat in your vehicle. After securing the seat to the vehicle, it is equally important to properly secure the child in the seat. All harness straps must be correctly threaded and anchored to the child safety seat. The retainer clip must also be adjusted so that it is at arm pit level to the child's body. There should be no more than one finger's gap between the straps and the child.
The safest place for all children is in the back seat. Children age 13 and under should always ride in the back seat.
Key Points To Remember
The best safety seat is one that:
- is suitable for your child's age and size,
- can be correctly and securely installed in your vehicle, and
- fits your budget. Choose one that you will use each and every time your child rides in the vehicle.
- Carefully read the safety seat manufacturer's instructions and the vehicle's owner's manual for instructions and warnings.
- It is important to keep the child safety seat clean. Follow the instructions of the child safety seat manufacturer regarding care of seat.
- Be sure all harness straps are properly threaded and are not twisted at any point.
- Infants must be transported in a rear–facing position in an infant or convertible seat until the age of 1. Never transport them in the front seat of an airbag–equipped vehicle, if the airbag cannot be de–activated.
- Check for hot metal buckles on your child's safety seat during warm weather months. When not in use, cover the child safety seat with a light–colored fabric to reflect the heat.
- Make sure all straps and belts are properly secured. Loose belts or harness straps contribute to injury in a crash.
- A lap belt should be fitted low and snugly across the child's hips – not across the stomach. If the rear seat is equipped with a shoulder belt, the belt should not come across the child's face or the front of their neck. Never place the shoulder belt under the child's arm or behind their back.
- No more than one person should be placed in a safety belt system – regardless of age.
- Set a good example. Buckle up yourself! An unrestrained adult can be thrown into other passengers and cause serious or even fatal injuries.
Much progress has been made in reducing the number of deaths and injuries on the nation's highways, but motor vehicle crashes remain the leading cause of death for people from age 6 to 27. Safety belts and laws requiring their use are saving lives. Each year seatbelts save approximately 13 thousand lives because seat belts are used by 81% of vehicle occupants.
In a 35–mph crash, a vehicle crushes as it slows down. Within one–tenth of a second – about two feet – the vehicle comes to a stop. But unrestrained occupants keep moving forward until they slam against the vehicle's interior. This sudden stop concentrates the impact's force, causing serious injury or death.
Restrained occupants are more likely to escape harm. By spreading the force of impact and gradually stopping the body, safety belts effectively reduce the severity of injuries. Consider the following statistics:
- Using lap/shoulder safety belts reduces injuries by nearly 50 percent.
- Use of lap/shoulder safety belts in vehicles equipped with air bags reduces injuries by nearly 60 percent.
- Proper use of child safety seats is 71 percent effective in preventing deaths and 67 percent effective in reducing the need for hospitalization.
Safety belts are designed so the impact of a crash is absorbed in the strongest areas of your body – the bones of your hips and shoulders. They keep you in place and prevent you and other occupants from being thrown into each other or ejected from the vehicle. Even if your vehicle is equipped with an air bag, it's important to always wear your safety belt. Many minor injuries occur when occupants are thrown toward air bags as they inflate. Safety belts help keep you in a safe position.
Even at low speeds, crashes can be serious. In fact, the majority of crashes causing injury or death occur within 25 miles of home at speeds under 40 mph. Vehicle crashes have even been known to kill unrestrained occupants at speeds as low as 12 mph.
All new vehicles feature air bags. In frontal or head–on collisions, sophisticated and highly reliable sensors measure crash severity. If the crash is hard enough – hitting a stationary barrier at 8 to 12 mph, for example – a sensor signals the bag to inflate with harmless nitrogen gas. Hidden within the steering wheel and dashboard, the bag inflates and deflates within a second.
When combined with safety belts, air bags absorb crash forces, greatly reducing the chance of injuries to the face, head, neck and chest – those most likely to result in death.