According to the Missouri Department of Transportation (MoDOT), seven out of 10 Missourians who suffer fatal car accident injuries are not wearing their seat belts. Seat belt use is an important part of safe roadway travel for all vehicle occupants, but especially for children, who can be particularly vulnerable to injuries in the event of a crash.
The proper installation and use of child safety restraints have long been concerns for parents and safety advocates. When used correctly, car seats can reduce car accident fatalities by 71% for infants and 54% for toddlers (children aged 1 to 4) when compared to seat belts. Accordingly, booster seats can reduce accident injuries by 45% for children aged 4 to 8. However, safety seats must be installed and used correctly in order to provide protection. Shockingly, according to Safe Kids USA, "the overall critical misuse for child restraints is about 73%." Infant seats and rear-facing convertible seats are the most commonly misused devices.
Here are a few guidelines aimed at keeping young passengers safe:
• Make sure you are familiar with Missouri's Child Restraint Law (RSMo 307.182), which requires safety seats for children ages 4 and under (or who weigh less than 40 pounds); and booster seats for children ages 4 to 7 (or who weigh less than 80 pounds or who are shorter than 4'9").
• When you purchase a safety seat, remember to register the product with the manufacturer so you'll receive any pertinent recall information. You can also visit www.recalls.gov.
• Purchasing safety seats secondhand (at yard sales, resale shops, etc.) is a risky endeavor. You have no way of knowing whether or not the seat has been through an accident.
• Babycenter.com stresses the importance of reading both your car seat and vehicle manuals to ensure you install the seat properly. If you're not sure, call the seat manufacturer and/or the automaker. There are also several workshops that teach proper installation (see the resources at the end of this post).
• Safety advocates recommend that all children ride in rear-facing car seats for as long as possible: until they are at least 2 years-old and/or until they exceed the weight or height limits of a particular seat.
• Similarly, after age 2, children should continue using front-facing car seats until they reach the maximum height and weight limits for a particular seat: many front-facing seats place limits at 65 or 80 pounds.
• Booster seats are the next step, and should be used until a regular seatbelt fits properly. Before getting rid of the booster seat, be sure to check that fit: Safekids USA says "the adult lap belt must lie snugly across the upper thighs and the shoulder belt must lie snugly across the shoulders and chest (usually when a child is approximately 4'9" and between 8 and 12 years of age)."