Baby Steps

Thursday, September 29th, 2011
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Car Seats are a Must for All Keiki, All the Time

By Angela Thomas

Accidental injuries, especially those involving motor vehicles, pose the greatest threat to the lives of young children. They are responsible for more than one-half of all deaths among children under five years of age in the United States. Each year, hundreds of young children are killed in car crashes and thousands more are injured enough to go to the emergency room. Using car safety seats and seat belts correctly is the best way to prevent this from happening (American Academy of Pediatrics, 2005). National statistics also show an estimated 8,959 lives were saved by child restraints from 1975 to 2008

State law requires all children under the age of four to be secured in a car seat; children between the ages of 4 and 8 are to be secured in booster seats. Older children must be secured in a seat belt and it is recommended that they ride in the back seat of the vehicle.

For Hawaii Island residents, there is an anonymous car seat hotline (961-2226) to report sightings of children not properly restrained in a vehicle. Callers should be prepared to provide a license plate number, car make/model/color, the date and location of the car. A letter will be sent to the owner about the violation.

Besides using the appropriate seat for the age and weight of your child, the seat needs to be installed properly – in fact, although many parents are using car seats and booster seats for their children, 9 out of 10 seats are not properly installed. Differences in seat belts and locking mechanisms have an impact on how effective your seat will be should you be involved in a crash.

This week marks National Child Passenger Safety Week (September 18-24) – a good time to remind everyone to buckle up their keiki.

Which car seat is the best?

No single seat is the “best” or “safest”. What you need to find is a seat that fits your child’s size. Make sure it is installed properly – faces the back or front depending on your child’s age and weight – and then be sure you use it every time your child is in the car. A higher price doesn’t make a seat safer, although it may come with additional features. But all car seats need to be installed properly to be effective.

Important Safety Rules

* Always use a car safety seat, starting with the first ride home from the hospital.

* Never place a car seat in the front seat of a vehicle that has airbags.

* The safest place for all children to ride is in the back seat.

* Always wear your seat belt. Young children will follow your lead, and it’s never too young to set up lifelong habits.

* Remember that each car seat is different. Read the manual to install them correctly and pay attention to the height and weight limits for their use.

Kinds of seats

There are basically four different kinds of seats for young children.

1. Infant-only rear facing seats

2. Convertible seats – Can be used in a rear facing position and converts to front facing as child gets older.

3. Forward facing seats – for children older than one year and over 20 pounds.

4. Booster seats – for children 4 years old or over 40 pounds.

Here are some guidelines for using a proper child safety seat.

Infants: Birth to 1 year or less than 20 lbs.

* Rear facing or convertible seat in the rear facing position.

* Children under 1-year-old and less than 20 lbs should be in a rear facing position. Use the weight guide from your car seat to determine when to turn the seat to the front facing position. Children are actually safer in the rear facing position and new national research shows it’s safer to keep a child in the rear facing position until two.

* Never place the car seat in the front seat of the car if airbags are installed.

* The seat should recline to about a 45-degree angle.

* Harness straps should be snug at or below shoulder-level. Place harness clip at armpit level.

Preschoolers/Toddlers: Over 1 year old and over 20 lbs to 40 lbs

* Convertible seat/forward facing or front facing seat

* Never place car seat in front seat of car if airbags are installed.

* Harness straps should be at or above shoulders.

* Harness straps snug on children.

* Harness clip should be at armpit level.

Young Children over 40 lbs: 4 to at least 8 years old unless they are 4’9″

* Belt-Positioning Booster Seats

* Forward facing only.

* Must use lap and shoulder belt.

* Lap belt should fit snug over upper thigh area and shoulder to avoid abdominal injuries.

* Never place strap under the arm or behind the back.

Children 12 and under should ride in the back seat. The force of an inflated airbag can seriously injure or kill children. The back seat is usually a safer place because head-on crashes are the most common type of accident. At about 40 lbs, children do not fit lap/shoulder seat belts properly, which is why booster seats are recommended. A seat belt can cause serious injury because of improper fit on stomach, shoulders and neck.

So remember: BUCKLE UP! Children’s safety should be everybody’s business. Help protect our little ones who are too young to speak for themselves.