DARKE COUNTY — While busy families are planning their fall routines for the school year, travelling to and from school, extra-curricular activities, football games, soccer matches, and gathering the daily essentials of life-on-the-go, the sobering reality of child passenger safety statistics challenges us to consider that motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of childhood fatalities in the United States, and that three out of every four car seats are improperly installed. Child Passenger Safety Week 2020 (September 20 to 26) puts a timely spotlight on the “how-to’s” of keeping children safely secured in the right seats.
According to the National Highway Transportation and Safety Administration (NHTSA), every 32 seconds, one child under the age of 13 is involved in a passenger vehicle crash. Often, parents are unaware that that their child’s car seat may be the wrong size or installed incorrectly. With the proper use of car seats, booster seats, and seat belts, many injuries and deaths can be prevented. Fatal injuries due to crashes can be reduced by 71 percent for infants, and by 54 percent for toddlers just by properly installing the correct car or booster seat.
“In 2019, 86 percent of the car seats our agency checked were installed incorrectly.” says Brian Phillips, Assistant Chief of Greenville Township Emergency Services, and administrator for the Darke County Ohio Buckles Buckeyes Care Seat Program. “It’s important that parents and caregivers educate themselves when it comes to car seat safety.”
The Ohio Buckles Buckeyes (OBB) Program provides child safety seats and booster seats to eligible low-income families in all Ohio counties. The overall goal for this program is to increase the availability of child safety seats for families who could not otherwise afford them and to increase correct installation and proper use of car seats.
“Currently we have six certified car seat technicians that are here to help you keep your kids safe.” Phillips said. “We offer free car seat checks. If you have a car seat and you want to make sure your child is safely secured, please call and make an appointment.”
Often, new parents take extra precautions when bringing their baby home from the hospital; yet, as the toddler grows beyond that first rear-facing car seat, parents may overlook the importance of finding the correct forward-facing car seat — one with properly fitting harness and tether suited for their growing child’s weight and height. If the child exceeds the weight or height limits for a forward facing car seat, then parents should transition to using a booster seat. Parents and caregivers can help protect their children in every stage of life by making sure that each child is properly fitted and secured in the correct car seat for his or her height, weight, and age.
From birth to 12 months of age, the NHTSA always recommends a rear-facing car seat. Three types of rear-facing car seats are infant-only, convertible (all-in-one) car seats which have a higher height and weight limit, and allow a child to remain in the rear-facing seat for a longer period of time.
From one to three years of age, the NHTSA recommends that a child should remain in a rear-facing car seat for as long as possible, until he or she reaches the top height or weight limit allowed by the car seat manufacturer. Once the child outgrows the rear-facing seat, then he or she is ready to travel in a forward facing seat with a five-point harness and top tether.
The American Academy of Pediatrics updated their guidelines in 2018, recommending that children should remain in rear-facing car seats until they reach the maximum height and weight limit — even if they are older than two years. Moreover, according to Safe Kids Worldwide, in the event of a front-end crash (the most common type), a rear-facing car seat allows the child’s head, neck and spine to move evenly into the seat, not away from it.
From four to seven years of age, the NHTSA recommends that a child should be in a forward facing car seat with a five-point harness and top tether until he or she reaches the top height or weight limit allowed by the car seat manufacturer. When the child outgrows the forward-facing seat, then he or she is ready for a booster seat.
From eight to 12 years of age, the NHTSA recommends that a child should be in a booster seat until he or she is big enough to fit into a seat belt properly — that the lap belt must lie snugly across the upper thighs, not the stomach. The shoulder belt should lie snugly across the shoulder and chest, not crossing the neck or face. For safety, a child under the age of 12 should ride in the back seat.
Furthermore, a child’s car seat should be replaced after a moderate to severe car accident, according to the NHTSA. Even if the accident was a minor “fender bender,” one should still get the car seat inspected by a safety professional, to ensure that it is fit for travel — especially if the door closest to the car seat sustained damage, or any of vehicle’s air bags deployed. Depending upon the circumstances, one’s insurance may be able to cover the cost of a replacement car seat.
“Never buy a used car seat from garage sales, flea markets or second-hand stores when you don’t know the complete history of the car seat. A used car seat can be unsafe if it has been in a crash or if it is missing parts, labels or instructions. A car seat is also unsafe if the manufacturer has issued a safety recall and the seat has not been fixed.” according to Phillips.
Parents and caregivers should also be aware of the Consumer Product Safety Commission’s recommendations for product safety and care. The CPSC regularly posts information about safety recalls for infants and children’s products, and this includes car seat recalls. As manufacturers suggest that car seats be registered after purchase, and not be used beyond the label’s expiration date, it is important to check the CPSC safety recalls list (www.cpsc.gov/Recalls), in case the car seat being used is actually safe. As of August 2020, the CPSC has issued several product recalls and repair/replace recommendations for car seats; some manufacturers named on the list were Graco, Evenflo, Britax, ValcoBaby, Kolcraft, and Combi. Although these manufacturers make great efforts to alert the public when a product is recalled, important information can sometimes be overlooked.
“Car seats do have an expiration date.” Phillips reiterated. “The plastic that car seats are made of can lose their integrity from being exposed to extreme temperatures. Car seats also see a lot of general wear and tear. When buying a car seat, make sure you complete and mail the registration card. If you register your car seat, the manufacturer will notify you when there is a safety recall.”
If everyone takes child car seat safety seriously, more lives may be saved. It is the path to safe passage for life’s most precious cargo.
For more information about the Darke County Ohio Buckles Buckeyes (OBB) Program, or to schedule an appointment for a car seat safety check, call Greenville Township Emergency Services at 937-548-9339, or visit the OBB Facebook page. For more information on car seat safety, visit Safe Kids Worldwide at www.safekids.org
Carol Marsh covers community interest stories and handles obituaries for Darke County Media. She can be contacted by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 937-569-4314.