Experts Warn There is Not Enough Emphasis on Car Seat Safety

car seat safety installation denver colorado

September is National Child Passenger Safety Month. Video highlights safer installation.

According to the NHTSA, motor vehicle crashes were the leading cause of death for children ages 4 to 14. In 2011, there were 171,000 children age 14 and younger injured in motor vehicle-related crashes. On average, three children age 14 and younger were killed and 469 were injured every day in the United States in motor vehicle crashes. The primary defense against vehicle accident injuries are car seats, but 3 out of 4 are installed incorrectly, again according to NHTSA.

In February 2011, Consumer Reports magazine reported that only two out of twelve child car seats tested by the magazine were recommended, and, that most seats failed miserably even at speeds as low as 35mph. Some seats came out or off of their bases. Some twisted in place. Others folded in half, and one report stated that a test dummy was thrown thirty feet from the impact zone.

Car seats are tested at slower speeds than what is required for automobile crash tests!

Car seats are tested in crashes with a maximum speed of 30 mph. However, car companies are required to safety test their automobiles at speeds between 35-38 mph. Product liability attorney Todd Tracy represents families involved in car crashes and has seen the industry’s problems up close. “People believe car seats have been tested in car crashes. They have not. There haven’t been more than 20 done since the early seventies, all by Ford. And that’s the vehicle side. Car seats are even worse. The safety standards have not been changed since 1972.” That means that since all states require some type of seat, they are enforcing decades old standards.

“People believe car seats have been tested in car crashes. They have not. There haven’t been more than 20 done since the early seventies, all by Ford. And that’s the vehicle side. Car seats are even worse. The safety standards have not been changed since 1972.” – Attorney Todd Tracy

To an infant, an additional 5-8 mph is a big difference. Car companies have improved the safety of crash protection in cars at the 38 mph speed, however, according to Tracy Child safety seat companies have not had to improve the crash protection of their seats to match that of the auto industry tests yet.

Tracy recommends a broad education campaign to teach the basics of child seat installation. “The problem is poor instruction,” he says. “There have been all these campaigns about buckling up and seat belts. There’s never been an educational approach about child seat installation.”

A lot of motor vehicle related injuries to children are due to the car seat not being properly installed or not having the right car seat for your child.

How to Keep Your Child Safer in His or Her Car Seat:

  1. Make sure the car seat is properly installed. Before you install your car seat, be sure to read both the car seat instruction manual and your vehicle’s owner manual.
  2. Make sure your child has the right car seat for their weight and height. State varies on what car seats are required for what ages. But it may be best to error on your child’s weight rather than age when choosing the right car seat. 

Infants and children under the age of 1 should be rear-facing. Your child will be safest if you wait until he or she is 30 lbs. to turn the seat so that it faces forward or switch to a forward-facing seat. Once your child exceeds weight and height limits for his or her forward-facing car seat, they should move into a booster seat that is used with the rear seat belt.

Car Seat Safety is a Job for Both Moms and Dads

Choosing a seat and installing it correctly are only part of keeping your child safe. “In the hospital, husbands go out to make sure the seat is installed correctly and get trained by the installer. Moms are with the baby in the room. Moms are frequently the ones in charge of day to day use but they’re left out of the process entirely,” says Allison Schneider, a manager at the mama’hood, a Denver retail store for new mothers that offers classes in yoga and breastfeeding. She points to another problem with hospital based installers. “They (parents and installers) are focused on installing the seat and forget to spend much time on their actual use… Basics like removing heavy jackets and chest buckle position.”

“They (parents and installers) are focused on installing the seat and forget to spend much time on their actual use… Basics like removing heavy jackets and chest buckle position.” – Allison Schneider

Will Hously, a Baby’s First Ride safety technician, agrees. He says buckling kids into carseats over heavy winter jackets creates an extremely dangerous situation in which a child’s body could simply slip out of the jacket during an impact. Hously recommends taking your children out of their jackets when buckling them up in the winter. 

Both Hously and Schneider, like Tracy, think aggressive education is the best way to improve the situation. But Tracy recognizes the challenge, stating that “A lot of parents are going to have to get involved to get a campaign started. But it’s absolutely essential that attorneys, safety educators, consumer advocates, auto manufacturers, and parents band together to raise awareness.”


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