Each year as spring’s warming temperatures and longer, sunny days loosen winter’s icy grip, our lives seem to (inevitably) get exponentially busier. Maybe it’s because little league started up again, or because the annual ballet recital is approaching, or because a little sunshine from a day at the park is exactly what the doctor ordered. For those of us in Kansas City though, perhaps it’s just the smell of BBQ that entices us out of the house and away from our work.
Whatever the reason, the reality is that with more on our daily agendas (more places to go and people to see) we will undoubtedly spend more time in our automobiles. While some will cruise around town by themselves, many will travel with children – usually just our own, unless tonight is our turn for carpool duty, in which case the minivan will be full to its’ capacity. And it is amidst this increasing chaos that those of us driving with children on board must remember several general rules* to help ensure that the youngsters in our charge arrive safely to their destination:
1. Always be sure that every passenger (yourself included) is properly secured with either a seat belt or safety restraint.
2. Avoid seating children in the front passenger seat whenever possible. The safest place for children to travel is in the back seats of your vehicle.
3. If you need to place a child in the front seat, be sure to back the seat as far away from the dashboard as possible.
4. Infants (typically characterized as being under 12months of age and/or weighting less than 20lbs) should always be placed in rear-facing car seats.
5. Children under the age of 4yrs/40lbs old should always travel in a federally-approved child safety seat (car seat).
6. Typically, children under 8yrs/80lbs/4’9” should travel in a booster system approved for their size and compatible with your vehicle.
*The above list is meant simply as a helpful guideline. Vehicle safety laws pertaining to child passengers vary by state and are subject to change. The links below can be used to access the direct text of both Kansas and Missouri state laws.
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, most child passengers involved in automobile traffic accidents incur injuries as the result of improper restraint. Car seats and other child safety restraint systems all come with instructions for proper use, so it is important to read these materials thoroughly. If, after reading through the instructions you are still unsure about how to safely secure your child into and/or integrate the car or booster seat into your own vehicle’s setup, there are several simple ways to get the answers you are looking for to put your mind at ease. Any certified car dealer that sells your particular model car should be able to assist you with properly securing your child’s safety restraint seat into your car’s existing seat belt or LATCH restraint system. Your child’s pediatrician should be able to tell you how to ensure that your child is properly restrained within his/her seat or booster. As a general rule, adults should not be able to fit more than a finger or two between a child’s chest and the shoulder strap on a five-point harness, and the lower straps should be worn tight across the thighs. And, for those new and expecting parents out there, don’t overlook your own moms and dads – they are invaluable resources who have plenty first-hand knowledge and experience to impart to the next generation! Additionally, the website below might help to clear-up any additional questions or concerns.
For those individuals traveling with kids who meet state requirements allowing them to ride in vehicles restrained only by seat belts (without the additional aid and support of a car or booster seat), it is important to stress the importance of PROPER USE/RESTRAINT. This means wearing BOTH shoulder strap and lap strap – studies have reported that injuries sustained by children and other individuals wearing only the lap strap (opting to slip the shoulder strap off and behind their body) are typically equivalent to those totally unrestrained (those who are not wearing seat belts). When properly engaged, shoulder straps should rise diagonally from your lower hip up across your chest and shoulder, running directly on top of the chest bone and then the collar bone opposite the side being buckled in. The strap should also never be placed under the armpit (another example of improper restraint) and should fit low and stung across the top of your shoulder; newer model cars typically have shoulder restraints that are adjustable to accommodate the different seated heights of vehicle occupants.
Airbags are another safety feature to consider when piling in the kids for carpool or before planning a family road trip. While meant as an integrated safety device intended to lessen or minimize injury to vehicle occupants during an accident, airbags should in no way be considered fool-proof. They are meant as a secondary safety system (wherein seat belts are the first); SEAT BELTS SHOULD ALWAYS BE WORN. Airbags are intended to quickly inflate during an accident and then act as a barrier between body and hard surface, such as the dashboard or steering wheel. Unfortunately, the design flaw here is that the quicker the airbag inflates, the greater the force and speed with which this “safety device” explodes; airbags typically expand at the equivalent of 200mph.
What this means is that the force required to push the airbag to full inflation poses a threat to children sitting too close to the dash (a safety seat, for example, would position a child much closer to the dashboard than an individual sitting in the front seat). Children without a safety seats are also at risk because of height restraints that might put their heads in direct alignment with the dead center of the expanding bag. If seated too close, the full expansion of the airbag could potentially suffocate the child in question. Once again, children are safest in the back seats of vehicles. Whenever this is not possible, and a child must ride in the front passenger seat, be sure to move the seat as far away from the dashboard as room will allow.
Simulated auto-collision research and technological advances have continued to make passenger vehicles safer and safer for the past twenty odd years. Spring is undeniably a great time to get in the car and go places, and you shouldn’t be afraid to invite your kids or grandkids to tag along. When you do decide to go somewhere, just remember to consider two key points when it comes to your young passengers: PLACEMENT and RESTRAINT. Keeping these in mind and adhering to state laws for child passenger safety will help ensure your safe and happy travels.