By Tech. Sgt. Amelia Leonard, 439 Airlift Wing
/ Published October 31, 2016
WESTOVER AIR RESERVE BASE, Mass. -- During the past five years, I’ve made several bloody trips to the emergency room. As the mom of three young kids, blood and tears just seem to come with the territory. My oldest is only five-years-old and has already gotten staples, stiches, and glue adhesives to close wounds on his head. I’m definitely not a, “helicopter mom.” However, when it comes to car seat safety, I couldn’t be more determined to make sure he is as safe as can be at all times.
On average, 37 people die every day in a car accident. Since 1980, the amount of licensed drivers in the U.S. has increased 45 percent, from 145 million to 210 million, and the total number of registered cars has increased 60 percent from 146 million to 242 million as of 2010, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation.
Increased traffic on our roadways necessitates increased safety measures. In 2015, there were 35,092 car accidents, up from 32,744 in 2014.
Children under the age of five are most at risk for serious injury or death in a car accident. According to the National Highway Transportation and Safety Administration, car accidents are the number one cause of accidental deaths in children. Children under five are nearly four times more likely to die in a car accident than be kidnapped by a stranger, before age 18.
It all comes down to physics and the physiology of young children. Physiology first. Unlike adults, the vertebrae of young children are connected with cartilage, not bone. At two-years-old, none of those cartilaginous spaces have ossified to bone and can stretch up to two inches. However, it only takes ¼ inch stretch to rupture the spinal column, resulting in paralysis or death. Three areas of the spine fuse over time, and at age eight, there is only a 50 percent probability that the bones have fused completely. Another big difference between adults and children is the head to body proportionality. At nine months old, a child’s head makes up 25 percent of its body weight, whereas an adult head only makes up six percent of its body weight.
Now, let’s talk physics and numbers. Sir Isaac Newton, world-renowned physicist, stated in his first law of motion that, “…an object in motion stays in motion.” During a crash, occupants travel toward the point of impact, putting the stress of impact on the next and spine. According to the NHTSA, 60 percent of all vehicle crashes are frontal crashes. This means that a young child with disproportionally large head could fly forward while the child’s body remains harnessed in a car seat. The result is devastating: internal decapitation.
Driving children is a necessity. My kids probably spend more than 15 hours per week in the car going to the grocery store, doctor or extracurricular activities. Although driving may seem scary based on the facts above, there are several ways I ensure my children’s safety.
•Invest in a good car seat. There are many options available which can grow with your child from five to 120 pounds. One car seat could last your child from infant into elementary school without replacement.
•Keep your child rear-facing and in their car seat as long as possible, until they hit the height or weight limits of their car seat. Remember, age is just a number, not a good indicator that your child is ready to face forward or transition to a booster seat. Many states have recently changed their laws and increased the minimum ages and weights children need to remain in their car seats. The minimum recommended age to remain rear-facing is two, according to the American Association of Pediatrics and NHTSA. Massachusetts law requires drivers follow the manufacturer’s recommendation of each individual car seat.
•Schedule an appointment with your local fire station or other certified car seat technician to ensure your car seats have been properly installed according to your car manual and car seat manufacturer instructions. They may differ. According to a study conducted by Chrysler, 96 percent of parents and caregivers believe their child safety seats are installed correctly, but NHTSA research shows that seven out of 10 children are improperly restrained, putting them at risk for serious injury or death in a crash.
•Make sure the straps are buckled correctly. If your child is rear-facing, the straps should sit at or just below shoulder level. If your child is forward facing, the straps should sit at or just above shoulder level. A chest clip is intended to go across the sternum, the strongest bone in the chest. Make sure to remove all jackets or large outerwear prior to being strapped in to ensure a snug fit. You should not be able to pinch any slack between the straps and your child’s body.
•Never buy a used car seat. Car seats which have been involved in car accidents are no longer safe, regardless of how fast the cars were going or if there was any damage to the car. You also never know if or how the seat has been cared for. Most detergents remove the flame retardant from the cloth covers, and therefore most car seats and their straps should only be washed with warm water or a mild dish soap.
•The back seat is always the safest place for passengers. Many states prohibit children from riding in the front seat until 12-years-old. In Massachusetts, it is illegal for children under the age of 13 to sit in the front seat.
•Remember that even if you don’t have a child in your car, someone else might. That call, text, or Facebook message can wait – a child’s life could depend on it.
While I may be okay with the occasional blood and tears resulting from getting hurt on the playground or in our backyard, I’m not willing to compromise on car seat safety. People often ask me when I’m finally going to let my kids ride in a car without a car seat, and my answer remains the same, “when it’s safe.”