Outdated laws and how they are putting our children at risk
Just because something is legal doesn't make it safe and car seat safety is no exception.
Let's start with rear facing car seats.
The AAP recommends that all infants ride rear facing starting with their first ride home from the hospital. All infants and toddlers should ride in a rear-facing seat until they are at least 2 years of age or, preferably, until they reach the highest weight or height allowed by their car seat manufacturer.
A 2007 study in the journal Injury Prevention showed that children under age 2 are 75 percent less likely to die or be severely injured in a crash if they are riding rear-facing. And yet only 6 states have updated their laws to require rear facing to 2 years old. The other 44 states still legally allow a 1 year old child to be forward facing
I hear parents say "it's legal so it must be safe" so by not updating their laws many states are putting many children at risk by giving parents the impression that forward facing is safe.
All children should rear face to a minimum of 2 years old.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA, pronounced "NITS-uh ") recommends that children rear face until 2-4 years old or until they meet the height and weight limits of their convertible car seat.
Once your child is over 2 years old and you are ready to have them forward facing there are a couple things to remember. The first thing is to always use the top tether. The tether reduces head excursion by 4-6" so it's extremely important.
Children should remain in a 5 pt harness until they are at least 5 years old and 40 lbs.
Many states have no minimum age or size for using a booster seat. In some states it's legal for a child as young as 3 and weighing only 30 pounds to use a booster seat.
Many booster seats do not position the seatbelt optimally on the body of an average 3-or-4-year-old which could lead to internal injuries in a crash. Many boosters seats have a seating depth (front-to-back) that is too deep for the shorter legs of a younger child. If the child has to slouch or scoot forward to bend his/her knees over the edge of the booster, that will promote poor seatbelt fit which increases injury risk.
A child is ready to move to a booster when they are a minimum of 5 years old, and are over 40 pounds.
The booster seat can’t do its job if when in a car crash, the child has leaned over to pick up something off of the floor of the car. Or fallen asleep and slumped out of position. Or put the shoulder belt under their arm. Etc, etc. Booster seats are for children who are mature enough to sit still and stay in the proper position. And they have to be able to stay in that proper position for the entire ride, every ride. Awake or asleep.
Another area state laws are often lacking is when a child can legally use just an adult seatbelt.
Here in my state it's legal to have a 6 year old child use nothing but a seatbelt.
But for a small child not using a booster seat in the event of a crash, an adult seat belt can actually cause injury rather than prevent it.
That's according to a new study that analyzed 100,000 crashes. "Booster seats put kids in a position so the shoulder belt can actually do its job," says lead study author Kristy Arbogast, Ph.D., of the Center for Injury Research and Prevention at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia. "If it doesn't fit correctly she's apt to slip forward in the event of a crash and hit something in the car. We see more brain injuries as a result. The lap belt is also more likely to rise up over her pelvis and into her soft belly, causing internal damage." Safety experts recommend using a booster until your kid is at least 4' 9"
Parents we need to keep our babies safe while riding in the car no matter what age they are. And no matter what the law says. So before a child should be sitting in the vehicle seat without a booster, he or she needs to meet the following five criteria called the 5 Step Seat Belt Test:
The 5-Step Test is important because adult seatbelts are not designed to restrain children and poor-fitting belts can actually cause injuries in a crash.
Taking the 5-Step Test is quick and simple. Have the child buckle up in the vehicle and then answer these 5 questions:
1. Does the child sit all the way back on the vehicle seat?
2. Are knees bent comfortably at the edge of the vehicle seat?
3. Does seatbelt cross the shoulder properly? (it should be centered over the collar bone)
4. Is the lap portion of the seatbelt low – touching the thighs?
5. Can the child stay seated this way for the entire ride, every ride (awake and asleep)?
Bonus step – feet planted firmly on floor
If you answered "no" to any of these questions, your child needs a booster seat to make both the shoulder belt and the lap belt fit right for the best crash protection. Your child will be more comfortable, too.
So we as parents need to do our research and do what is safest for our children and not depend on the law to protect our children.
If you do what is safest you will meet or exceed the laws in all 50 states.