Why does size and position matter?
Everyone loves their child and wants what’s best for them. So, when it comes to their safety while riding in the car, you have a car seat specifically designed for them. Depending on the age and size of your child, the type of car seat you have for them can vary. How do you know if you have the right type? Why does this matter?
The number one cause of death among children is motor vehicle crashes. Car and booster seats use reduces the risk for injury or death in a crash by more than 70% for children in car seats and by about 45% for children in booster seats when compared with seat belt use alone. The key is making sure that the seat is the right size for your child given their age and weight. It’s also important for the seat to be securely fastened to your vehicle’s seat. The last thing to make sure is that your children are always properly buckled in the car seat, booster seat or seat belt. Most of the time, in your child’s life, transitions to something new is good thing. When it comes to car seats, transitions are best when they are delayed until maximum requirement is met, not the minimum. Each transition from one type of car seat to the next results in reduced protection to your child. This is why the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) now recommend that children ride in rear-facing car seats until they reach the highest height and weight limits that seat can hold, which removes the old idea of a child moving to a forward-facing seat starting at the age of two. This initial recommendation was based on a study that found lower risks of injury among children under the age of two who were in rear-facing seats. New data has been found after studying information from biometric research, crash simulation data and experience in Europe where children ride rear facing for longer periods. Based off of this data, researchers discovered that car seats, in general, and rear-facing car seats, in particular, are doing an excellent job at protecting children in a crash. They are the reason deaths and injuries to children in motor vehicle crashes have decreased, but this also means that there isn’t enough information to establish with confidence at what age it’s safest to allow children to move to a forward-facing seat. It’s important to understand that when a child is in a rear-facing seat, their head, neck, and spine are all supported by the hard shell of the car safety seat. During a crash, the car seat absorbs most of the force, which protects the most vulnerable parts of your child’s body. Younger children, infants and toddlers, have disproportionately large and heavy heads. So, when they are riding in a forward-facing seat with just their bodies restrained by the harness straps, their head are more likely to be thrown forward, which can cause spine and head injuries. So, using this knowledge and the information that was discovered, the AAP updated its recommendations. There’s no question that rear-facing seats are the safest way for children to ride. If you’re able, keep your child in a rear-facing seat as long as possible.
There are many types of car seats and as child grows, which type they’ll need will change as they grow. It’s vital to make sure that the car seat fits your child’s current size in order to provide them with the most safety. Infant car seats are usually rear-facing only and are designed for newborns and small babies. Most babies usually outgrow them by the time they are 8 – 9 months. When this happens, you need to purchase a new seat. Since your child will still be small, the seat will need to be rear-facing. Forward-facing car seats have a harness and tether that attach the seat to your vehicle in order to limit your child’s forward movement during a crash. Booster seats help to raise your child high enough that the vehicle’s seat belt can be used and helps it fit properly. There are two types of booster seats. One type has a high back, which allows for neck and head support in vehicles that don’t have head rests or high seat backs. The other is backless, which doesn’t provide head and neck support and is ideal for vehicles that have head rests. A combination or all-in-one seat can change from a rear-facing to a forward-facing (with a harness and tether) and to a booster seat as your child grows. Since it can accommodate your child at various sizes, it typically allows for them to stay in the rear-facing position longer. Whenever you’re selecting a car seat, it should be based off of your child’s current size. By checking the instruction manual and the labels on the car seat, you’ll find the manufacturer’s weight and height limits. When your child is approaching one of those, it’s time to think about transitioning to the next seat. It’s also key to ensure that the seat will fit in your vehicle because some car seats are incompatible with certain vehicles.
Under the new guidelines, most children should be in a rear-facing car seat from birth until somewhere between the ages of two to four. Thankfully, car seat manufacturers have created rear-facing seats that will support children who weigh 40 pounds or more. So, this means that infants and toddlers should be in a rear-facing car seat, in the back seat, until they reach the maximum weight and/or height limits of their car seat, not a certain age restriction. Once they outgrow the rear-facing seat, you can use a forward-facing seat until your child reaches the upper weight or height limit for that seat. Most forward-facing seats can hold children who weigh 65 pounds or more. After they outgrow the forward-facing seat, you can use a booster seat until the vehicle’s seat belts fit properly without it. You can tell if a seat belt fits properly if the lap belt lays across your child’s upper thighs, not across their stomach, and the shoulder belt lays across their chest, not their neck. Typically, a vehicle’s seat belt will fit properly on its own when your child is about 4 feet 9 inches tall or between the ages of 9 – 12. The back seat is the best place for children to seat, especially the middle of the back seat because it’s the safest spot in the vehicle. Always buckle your child in their car seat, booster seat or seat belt on every car trip, no matter how short it is. In rear-facing seats, harness straps should lie flat, not twisted, and be placed through the slot that is at or below your child’s shoulders. For forward-facing seats, harness straps should lie flat, not twisted, and be placed through the slot that is at or above your child’s shoulders. Keep in mind that you should follow the instruction manual for your particular car seat when placing the restraints in the proper position for your child’s size. After your child is in the seat, buckle the harness and chest clip (it should be at the level of your child’s armpit) before tightening the strap. You’ll know the harness is snug enough, but not too tight, when extra material cannot be pinched at the shoulder and it isn’t pressing down too much on your child’s chest. In order to encourage their use of seat belts, set a good example by always using yours.
Besides securing your child properly in the seat, it’s vital that the seat is installed in your vehicle correctly in order to prevent it from moving around during a crash. The best way to do this is by following the owner’s manual or getting help installing it from a certified Child Passenger Safety Technician. Many local fire and police stations offer free car seat inspections to help you make sure that the seat is secured correctly. Besides reading the car seat’s owner manual, you might need to read your vehicle owner’s manual on how to install the car seat using the seat belt or lower anchors and a tether in order to secure the seat in place. For rear-facing seats, you’ll most likely use your vehicle’s seat belt. Most vehicle seat belts have locks so that it doesn’t release easily once you secure it, so it’s key to know how to lock your vehicle’s seat belt, which is found in the owner’s manual. Also, for rear-facing seats, it’s important to make sure that the seat is installed at the correct recline angle. Most forward-facing seat use a tether strap that gets connected to an anchor in your vehicle and tightened, which is crucial in limiting the forward movement of the seat in a crash. Car seats are considered to be secured if they aren’t able to move side-to-side or front-to-back more than an inch when pulled on. Lower anchors are two small horizontal bars that are used for installing a car seat using its lower anchor attachments and are found in the space between your vehicle’s seat back and bottom cushion. Most vehicles have a minimum of two rear seats that have low anchors. They have weight limits set by the vehicle and car seat manufacturers, which you can determine by checking the warning label or installation diagrams located on the side of the car seat. If your car seat doesn’t have a label, you can find the maximum allowable weight by subtracting the weight of the car seat (usually available in the car seat’s instruction manual) from 65 pounds. Tether anchors are used for attaching a car seat’s tether to your vehicle. Most vehicles have at least three tether anchors locations. In sedans, these are usually located above/behind the vehicle’s back seat on the rear shelf. For larger vehicles, such as vans, pickup trucks, and SUVs, these tether anchors may be found on the back of a vehicle seat, on the floor, the ceiling or another location. The tether is located on the top rear of the car seats and has an adjustable strap with a hook that connects to one of the tether anchors. In the United States, most rear-facing car seats don’t use a tether. However, it’s important to know what your car seat’s manufacturer recommends because it can vary from model to model.
While these new guidelines are great for increasing your child’s safety, they aren’t the only things you need to consider. Each state has specific laws regarding restrain of child passengers. You must comply with these laws or you could be ticketed. In order to understand the specific requirements for your state, please visit the AAA’s Digest of Motor Laws Child Passenger Safety page at https://drivinglaws.aaa.com/tag/child-passenger-safety/ A great resource for information about types of car seats and installation methods is the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s Car Seats and Booster Seats page at https://www.nhtsa.gov/equipment/car-seats-and-booster-seats Car seats save lives! By selecting the appropriate one, installing it properly and using it every time your child is in your vehicle, you’re doing everything that you can to ensure their safety!