When racecar drivers buckle up, they put safety first. “They don’t just buckle; they harness themselves in so the impact of a sudden stop is distributed across their body,” says Renee Zarr, injury prevention education coordinator with the Kohl’s SAFE 4 Kids program at Children’s Hospital of Michigan. The same principles apply in your own car.
Vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for ages 1 to 13, according to NHTSA, so it’s critical that you make the right car safety seat choices. Michigan child passenger safety laws require children to be properly buckled in a car seat or booster seat until age 8 (or 4 feet 9 inches tall).
Choose your car seat wisely
From birth, children should ride in a rear-facing safety seat until they reach the maximum height and weight indicated by the seat’s manufacturer. “It’s so important to keep your child in a rear-facing car seat until the age of 2, and for as long as possible after that,” Zarr says. In the event of a sudden stop, the angle of the car seat will cradle their head, neck and spine, protecting them from a potentially life-threatening injury.
Between about 4 and 7, they’ll be in a tethered forward-facing seat with a harness before transitioning to a booster in the back seat. It’s safest to keep your child in a booster until they can fit the seatbelt properly — about 57 inches tall, says Zarr. “It’s becoming common for kids to remain in a seat with a harness at 65 pounds, which is safer than just the booster and vehicle seatbelt,” she says.
Avoid garage sale or mom-to-mom sale seats, says Zarr, and only use a hand-me-down if you know the seat’s history — and it hasn’t expired. “The general rule of thumb is that car seats expire in six years. Many caregivers don’t realize this. Plastic and Styrofoam lose their ability to absorb impact in time and the technology is always being improved,” she says. And be wary of aftermarket accessories, as they have not been safety-tested for the car seat and can decrease effectiveness.
Head to the nhtsa.gov website to watch short videos on how to select and install your safety seat. Want to be extra sure? Email CHMSafety@dmc.org to schedule a car seat check with Kohl’s SAFE 4 Kids.
Other vehicle hazards
Even when your car is stationary, it can be a hazardous place, so never leave your child unattended in any vehicle. “This can happen unintentionally when there is a change in routine and a child is accidentally left in the car,” Zarr says. Of the 883 pediatric heatstroke deaths in the past 20 years, more than half were forgotten by the caregiver. “These statistics refer to the deaths and not the near-misses, so look before you lock,” she says.
A parked car on an 80-degree day can reach 100 degrees within 10 minutes, says Zarr. “It’s scary to think about, but hyperthermia can happen within 15 minutes on an 80-degree day,” she says. Caregivers should use every available reminder to check before leaving the car — even if it means removing one of your shoes and tucking it into the backseat before driving.
If you see a child alone in a vehicle, call 911. “Don’t hesitate. If the child is unconscious, take a picture and then break the window,” Zarr says. “Take action. It can save a life.” Finally, always lock your parked car to discourage kids playing hide-and-seek and getting trapped.