Tuesday, March 22, 2011

New Car Seat Safety Guidelines

Unless you don't watch the news or don't read anything on Facebook, you've probably heard about the new car seat guidelines. I think the word has spread throughout the mom community in record time. If you don't know what I'm talking about, the NHTSA and the AAP issued new standards yesterday for car seat safety. The specific guidelines for each age group can bee seen here.

Basically, these organizations are finally suggesting that parents follow the safety standards that car seat safety experts have been recommending for the last several years. The new guidelines direct parents to keep children in a rear-facing car seat until at least age 2, then moving them into a forward-facing seat with a 5-point harness. Children that outgrow the 5-point harness should be in a booster seat until age 12 or until they are at least 4'9" and able to fit properly into a vehicle seat belt.

Much of this sounds like common sense to those who have researched car seat safety. But to many people (especially those without young children) this is stirring up some controversy. I have read some people leaving nasty comments about the new guidelines and heard others use that wonderful phrase, "Well, when I was a child we didn't even have car seats and I'm fine!" As a friend pointed out, if they had been in an accident they wouldn't be around to tell everyone that they're fine. Right? I just don't understand the reasoning for not following these simple guidelines.

It never ceases to amaze me that there are parents who do not safely restrain their children (or themselves) in a vehicle. A friend of mine once told me about how she holds her baby on her lap in the front seat of her van on long trips while her husband drives. A baby. On her lap. Not restrained. I just can't believe people really do that. Do they not realize that, in a crash, that baby becomes a flying object that shoots through the windshield? Mommy's arms are just not going to protect that sweet baby in a collision.

Then there are people that don't use car seats correctly, for whatever reason. A child is safest when in a rear-facing seat. Everyone would be safer in rear-facing seats! But many parents turn their children's seats around too quickly, placing them at increased (and unnecessary) risk. A toddler can safely ride rear-facing, even if their legs are bent. When comparing risks, the risk of a broken neck trumps a broken leg any day as far as I'm concerned. (Broken legs = cast it, broken neck = casket.)
(Here's Joshua when he was around 30 lbs, still rear-facing.)

There are car seats on the market today that allow children to remain rear-facing up to 40 lbs. Nathan and Ryan have a seat with a 40-lb limit and are still rear-facing. Their legs are bent but they love to travel in the van and don't seem to care at all about the position of their seat. My big boys stayed in their rear-facing seats until they were 35 lbs (which was the limit of the seat.) They didn't end up bow-legged. I wish that I could have kept Leila & Sarah rear-facing longer (they could still be rear-facing now) but our van could not accommodate all 4 rear-facing seats. You are limited by what car seats you have and by what vehicle you drive, of course.

Speaking of vehicles, my van is awful when it comes to car seat installation. We only have LATCH in two seat positions, we have no headrests in any of the back seats at all, we only have 3 tether anchors, and our seat belt buckles have an unusual placement. It's impossible to install certain seats in our van. For those with big families, I've heard that the Ford full-size van has better options than they Chevy (what we have) and that the Dodge Sprinter (what I have always wanted) has even better seating arrangements.

Still, vehicle issues aside, you can find the safest seat for your child and your vehicle that still follows the guidelines. There are so many seats available that you don't have to pay a fortune or buy a new vehicle to find something that works. I was able to keep Matthew and Joshua in a 5-point harness until last summer, only needing to switch their seats because of the lack of tethers in my van. They're both in belt-positioning boosters now. Matthew does have friends his age (8 years old) that don't ride in booster seats, but these kids are in adult seat belts that don't fit them properly. That's just not safe.

Sure, it's a pain to buckle kids in and out of car seats. Yes, it can be inconvenient. But it is worth it to keep them safe. Car accidents are the number one cause of death for children in the U.S. The extra time that it takes to buckle a child into their car seat will be worth it if there is an accident. It takes me forever to go anywhere with 6 kids in car seats but I just leave myself extra time for all of the buckling and unbuckling. It's definitely worth it.

I have always been concerned about vehicle safety. One of my biggest fears is getting into a car accident with my children on board. I suppose that my concern may, in part, be from past experiences. I walked away from 2 major car accidents thanks to my seat belt. Not many people get hit by a dump truck and live to tell about it. I also lost a cousin (a child) to a drunk driver and my brother-in-law is in a wheelchair because of a drunk driver. You just never know when someone else's driving is going to affect you.

I see it this way... There is only so much that I can really control when it comes to safety on the road. I can't control the other drivers around me. I can't control the way my vehicle will react in a collision. I can't control the weather or the road conditions. I can control my kids and their car seats. One of the best ways I can keep them safe is just to follow the car seat guidelines.

Remember the guidelines listed here.

The NHTSA recommendations:

Select a car seat based on your child's age, height, and weight.
Keep your child in the proper car seat for as long as possible.
All children under 13 should ride in the back seat.

Stay safe!
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