When it comes to discussing parenting choices, I rarely venture outside of discussions related to natural family living. You know, the whole crunchy thang.
But in the past few months, I've witnessed some safety issues related to car seats that have upset me. Some are minor misuse issues that I think are fairly common, but there was one situation that continues to worry me, even though it's been months since I saw it happen.
We were in the parking lot of the Mart and I was getting my girls out of the car. It was early in the morning and the parking lot was nearly empty. A few rows over, I saw a young woman with a little girl not much older than AJ (17 months) unloading some bags into her car. The little girl was just beautiful and I paused for a moment to watch them. The car was a four door sedan and the little girl climbed in ahead of the woman (maybe her mother, maybe a care giver . . . I couldn't tell) through the driver's door. I thought it was odd, but sometimes I let Dacey climb in through my door and crawl through to the back seat to her car seat. Imagine my disbelief when the little girl (again, we are talking a toddler here) settled into the front passenger seat, and then my shock to see the woman reach across to buckle her in using the vehicle's seat belt! This all took place a few rows away and it happened in a matter of seconds. I was left standing there absolutely frozen - I wanted to flag her down and say something . . . anything . . . but I couldn't muster the words or the movement.
When I see situations like this, I have to wonder about what belies these choices. Is it legitimate ignorance of the importance of car seat safety for our little ones? Or does adult convenience sometimes just win out over child safety?
I wanted to share some invaluable information I've come across in the past four years that has changed the way I view child passenger safety. I've relied heavily on information and links from the Car Seat Questions Community at Babycenter.com and the Family Safety forum at MotheringDotCommunity.
1) REAR-FACING IS SAFEST - far beyond the age of one. From CPSafety.org:
Rear-facing is the safest position the child can ride in. It is strongly recommended that all children stay rear-facing beyond the minimum requirements of 1 year and 20 lbs. Children should not be turned forward-facing until they reach the maximum rear-facing limits of a convertible seat (that allows rear-facing to at least 30 lbs). These limits are either the maximum rear-facing weight limit or when the top of their head is within one inch of the top of the seat shell, whichever comes first. While most parents are aware that they must keep their children rear-facing "until they are AT LEAST 1 year old AND 20 lbs", very few are told that there are significant safety benefits when a child remains rear-facing as long as the seat allows. For most children, rear-facing can and should continue well into the second year of life. (bolding mine)
It would actually be safest for everyone to ride rear-facing in vehicles. This is obviously not feasible, but today's car seats do allow children up to thirty pounds (at least, depending on the seat) to sit rear-facing far beyond the first birthday. We flipped Dacey's seat forward at fifteen months, but our goal for AJ is to make it to the thirty pound upper limit on her seat (we highly doubt she'll outgrow the upper height limit first, but we'll keep an eye on that, too).
Many parents flip at one year because it is, in many ways, easier to have your toddler facing forward. They can see you and you can see them and this makes back-seat problem solving easier. I have to say it is much, much easier to have AJ rear-facing when I have a back-seat helper in Big Sister. I can ask her things like "Is Aliza asleep? Where is her paci? Why is she screaming?" And they have quite the big time back there - both entertaining and annoying each other.
More rear-facing links:
Why Rear-Facing is Safest from Car-Safety.org
Rear-Facing Seats from The Car Seat Lady
AAP official statement on optimal car seat safety for infants/toddlers
Rear-Facing in Rear End Collisions - powerful pictures of the aftermath of a read end collision and the rear-facing toddler involved (toddler was unharmed).
Three and half minute video featuring older rear-facing children as well as crash test footage
2. EXTENDED HARNESSING IS SAFEST - even beyond the forty pound upper limit of many convertible seats.
The twenty-pound/age one rule has become the standard for keeping infants rear-facing. After that, there is much debate/confusion. Many parents choose to move their toddler/preschooler to a booster seat once they outgrow the weight limit on their forward-facing convertible seat. Please know that keeping your child secure in a five-point harness is important beyond forty pounds!
The family of Kyle David Miller has taken up the cause of educating parents on the importance of 5-point harnesses after losing their precious three year old son in a car accident in which he was restrained in a seat belt secured booster.
Child Passenger Safety experts agree that the 5-point harness is the safest, because it provides the snuggest fit and is suitable for the widest range of children.
5-point harnessed car seats offer a much snugger harness fit than an adult seatbelt. In all 5-point harness seats, the straps come down over the shoulders and across the hips to fasten to the buckle that comes up between the legs. The harness sits snugly against the bony parts of the pelvis (the crotch and hip straps) and across the shoulders and rib cage (the shoulder straps). When a child moves forward in the seat, as they would in a crash, the properly tightened harness is already "holding" the child and it immediately restrains them, spreading the crash force out across the strong bones of the body. The child does not move before loading the restraint.
A 5-point harness has several advantages for child of any age or size. The straps are placed on the child's shoulders and low on the hips, so that crash forces are absorbed by the strongest parts of the child's body instead of the soft abdomen (which could result in internal injuries and even death).
Car seat/booster seat laws can be complicated and vary from state-to-state. The most current recommendation across the board is that the longer you can restrain your child in a 5-point harness, the better. In the picture above, Dacey is seated in a Fisher Price Safe Voyage Deluxe which will keep her in a 5-point harness until she is fifty-five pounds. (These were manufactured by Britax and were discontinued in 2007. The last manufacture date was summer 2007 on these seats.) There are seats on the market that will harness your child up to sixty or even eighty pounds. Here are the recommendations from the Kyle David Miller Foundation and here are the Babycenter Car Seat Forum recommended seats.
Please consider making your next car seat purchase from HipMonkey.com which is owned by Kyle Miller's mother. All proceeds go towards the Kyle David Miller Foundation which purchases quality car seats for children in need!
3) Most importantly, as is stated at CarSeat.org - "The 'best' safety seat is the one that fits your child, fits your car, and fits your family's needs in terms of comfort and convenience, so that you'll use it on every single ride." Visit seatcheck.org to find out how to have your installation checked. Make sure you have adjusted the chest clip in the proper location EVERY TIME! (I see this all the time - loosey-goosey chest clips down around the child's diaphragm instead of across the chest at armpit level. Drives me nuts!)
I wouldn't know one-tenth of what I know about car seat safety if it weren't for my online community of moms I met back when Dacey was baby (notably Corey from Living and Loving Every Minute of It! who is a car seat safety GURU). I think it is so important that parents advocate for car seat safety and educate our friends and families in these matters. If you learned anything here today, please pass it on to a parent or not-yet-parent in your life!
What can you add that I didn't cover?
PLEASE READ THROUGH ALL OF THE COMMENTS and PLEASE READ THIS ADDENDUM POSTED MARCH 10, 2009.