Why you shouldn’t cut corners with car seats and boosters

by Jill Taylor on April 6, 2016

in Safety

Recommended guidelines for safety restraints

The days are long gone when the family piled into a station wagon to drive across the country without seatbelts. With improved technology and transportation, children are much safer due to improved safety restraints.

The death rates in motor vehicle crashes in children under age 16 has decreased substantially, dropping 45 percent between 1997 and 2009, but it is still the leading cause of death for children ages 4 and older. Not only are fatalities accounted for, but hospitalization and serious injuries still happen at an alarming rate.

Susan Burchfield is the Trauma Program Injury Prevention and Outreach Coordinator for Temple Region, now a part of Baylor Scott & White Health. Burchfield is passionate about child passenger safety and educating parents.

“Every seat that is sold on the market is tested and fit for transportation,” says Burchfield. “However, it is important to check the labeling and instruction manual to see what the limits are. Every car seat and booster will have explicit instructions on the minimum and maximum height, weight, and age.”

The height, weight and age of your child are the three key indicators about safety restraints. It can be difficult or confusing to know if your child should be forward facing or rear facing, or if he should be in a booster or a car seat.

Phases of Safety Restraints

Here is a quick summary of the guidelines for safety restraints:

  • Phase 1: Rear-Facing Seats
    • Birth to 2+ years old
    • As long as possible, up to the rear-facing height or weight limit of the seat
    • Be sure that the seat is at the proper recline, and that it is fit snugly into the vehicle. The seat should not move more than one inch in any direction.
  • Phase 2: Forward-facing Seats
    • 2+ years old
    • As long as possible, up to the forward-facing height or weight limit of the seat
    • Released in 2011, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) advises parents to keep their toddlers in rear-facing car seats until age 2, or until they reach the maximum height and weight for their seat.
    • “Parents often look forward to transitioning from one stage to the next, but these transitions should generally be delayed until they’re necessary when the child fully outgrows the limits for his or her current stage,” said Dennis Durbin, MD, FAAP, lead author of the AAP policy statement.
    • Many parents still have the 1 year and 20-pound forward-facing recommendation in their minds, but research has shown that the body isn’t formed well enough to withstand the crash force and children are much safer riding rear facing for as long as possible.
    • Research 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.
  • Phase 3: Booster Seats
    • After age 4 and 40+ pounds
    • Use booster with a lap/shoulder belt
  • Phase 4: Adult Safety Belt
    • When children outgrow their booster seat
    • Usually at 4’9”
    • 10 to 12 years old
    • Transition when the lap portion of the belt sits low over the hips/thighs and shoulder belt crosses the center of the shoulder and center of the chest.

Parents have a responsibility to keep their children safe and follow the outlined guidelines and laws. For a full list of best practice recommendations, visit the Texas Department of Public Safety.

“My recommendation is always based on best practice,” says Burchfield. “The parent/caregiver makes the final decision on how to transport their child. Our job is educating, teaching, demonstrating, telling them why but they make the final decision.”

Installing Seats Correctly

When you purchase a car seat or booster, be sure to read the instruction manual carefully. A number of seats are not installed properly, and it can present a safety hazard. Also, it can take practice and parental discipline to make sure your child is wearing the straps and harnesses correctly.

Burchfield says it is common for children to try to push the plastic clip that goes across the chest down to their tummies. It should be at armpit level to go across the bone for support. She also says that the internal harness in a car seat is usually too loose over the shoulder. It needs to be checked and adjusted every time to make sure it is tight and doesn’t pick up slack.

“I tell parents that installing a car seat and using a car seat correctly can be a bigger education step than you think,” says Burchfield. “Seek education on this. Go to the website and look, or call up someone who is trained who can walk you through it. Some of them can be confusing, so seek advice and education how to properly utilize the seat.”

If you need help installing your car seat or booster, McLane Children’s provides free inspections from certified technicians. For more info about safety seat inspections please call 254-724-8202 or learn more about injury prevention or child passenger safety.

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