Unintentional injuries, like those sustained in car accidents, are the leading cause of childhood deaths.
In fact, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention reports that nearly 150 kids an hour are seen for injuries sustained in a crash – and there isn’t much parents can do after the accident occurs, other than call 911.
But not all is lost, says Renee Zarr, an expert with the Kohl’s SAFE 4 Kids Program. Parents who are mindful of and proactive with their child’s safety in the car can greatly improve their chance of survival if an accident occurs.
1. Mind the rules
Michigan has strict laws when it comes to car safety for children.
Kids under age 2 must ride in a rear-facing car seat to protect their head, neck and spine in case of impact or a sudden stop.
Kids ages 2-4 can graduate to a forward-facing car seat and at age 5, a booster seat. They should remain in the booster seat until they are at least 57 inches tall.
“When they are under 57 inches that’s when the seatbelt will bug their neck,” Zarr explains. “When they are taller than that, the seatbelt will sit across their collarbone and chest and over their hips.”
That said, Zarr adds that parents should take their child’s height, weight and behavior into consideration before bumping them up.
“Kids that are petite for their age tend to need to be in a booster seat longer, she says. Likewise, kids that can’t sit still should stay in their car seats longer.
2. Be picky with safety gear
When choosing a car or booster seat, Zarr urges parents to read and follow the seat’s labels.
“Car seats expire after six years, so we recommend replacing that car seat after six years,” she says. “Launder it and take care of it as the factory instructs because it says to for a reason.”
Parents, she adds, should avoid garage or mom-to-mom sale car seats – if they do go secondhand, they should know the seat’s history.
“Make sure it hasn’t been involved in a crash, isn’t missing pieces or hasn’t been taken apart,” she says.
Follow the instructions when installing the car seat. If you need help, visit the bi-monthly car seat checks offered by Children’s Hospital of Michigan or other local organizations.
3. Know other hazards
In addition, parents should be mindful of other potential car hazards. In the event of a crash, Zarr says, that groceries, a purse, unbuckled pets or even an unbuckled person can become a hazard for a child that is strapped in correctly – and should be secured properly before hitting the road.
Kids should always be taught to exit the car curbside to avoid passing traffic and should never be alone in a car.
“All it takes is going into a store for a second and before you know it your child is experiencing a heatstroke,” Zarr says. “You could take longer than you think you will – even if you leave the car on, it could shut off – or your kids could easily lock themselves in and could put the car in neutral. There are so many dangers and I would not trust that with my child’s life.”
For more information on child passenger safety or to learn more about the Kohl’s SAFE 4 Kids program, visit childrensdmc.org/ks4k.