Keeping Kids Safe: Automobile Travel

If you have a child, it is more than likely that you have taken him or her for a ride in a car – even if it was just your first ride from the hospital to home. What you may not realize is that car accidents are the leading cause of death for American children ages 4 to 14. In 2006, 240,000 children were injured in automobile accidents, and 2,173 were killed – with the greatest number of injuries and deaths in the 8 to 15 year old range. The numbers are shocking – they average out to 658 injuries and 6 deaths each day in the United States. Even worse, more than half of the children killed in automobile accidents were unrestrained – that means they were traveling without a seat belt, or a car seat or booster seat as their age required. In order to prevent so many unnecessary injuries and deaths, the government sponsored National Child Passenger Safety (CPS) Week from September 16-22, 2007. The purpose of CPS week is to educate the public about the importance of following the law and transporting children safely in vehicles. While the majority of very young children are properly restrained in car seats, older children age 4 to 7 are not always properly restrained for their age, height, and weight. This is unfortunate, because children restrained only with a seat belt are nearly twice as likely as children in booster seats to be injured in an accident. If younger children are restrained with only a seat belt, they have a greater chance of sustaining a serious head injury than a child properly restrained in a car seat. The Importance of Car Seats There are several reasons that babies and young children need to ride in age-appropriate restraints. First, consider that even just a 25mph head-on crash has the same impact as the child falling from a three-story building. Not surprisingly, that kind of force can cause terrible injury, and even death. Then consider that a leading cause of permanent brain damage is the impact from an automobile accident, and a child’s head or spine is injured in 70% of all crashes. What some people don’t realize is that infants are required by law to ride rear-facing in car seats to better protect their fragile bodies. An infant’s head is very large in proportion to the rest of his body and accounts for approximately 25% of their body weight. Add to this a soft spinal column and stretch neck ligaments – if a baby were forward-facing in an automobile accident, the neck bones could easily separate and the spinal column could tear, resulting in death or paralysis. When an infant rides rear-facing, the safety seat supports the child’s head, neck, and body and better protects the child. Each state and the District of Columbia has laws about how long a child must remain rear-facing. The State of California requires that children ride rear-facing up to one year and 20 lbs, or more in seats with weight limits to 30 lbs. and up. Some experts recommend that children ride rear-facing as long as possible – longer than the minimums required by law – to better protect them in a crash. By law, children in California must ride in a forward-facing car seat from minimum one year and 20 lbs. to 4 years old or to the weight limit of the harness, usually to 40 lbs. You may be interested to know that there are some models of car seats available on the market today that accommodate children up to 65lbs, which means your child can stay safe in his or her car seat longer. The Importance of Booster Seats Children who outgrow their car seat should be moved to a booster seat, not directly to the adult seat belt in the vehicle. Booster seats are an important step, as children are too small for adult-sized seat belts and in a crash can sustain serious abdomen, neck, and back injuries. A booster seat – which should be used with a lap and shoulder belt (never just a lap belt) – keeps children who are too large for a car seat safe until they are large enough to be properly protected by an adult seat belt. Experts recommend that you ask five questions to determine if your child needs to be in a booster seat:
    1. Does the child sit all the way back against the auto seat? 2. Do the child's knees bend comfortably at the edge of the auto seat? 3. Does the belt cross the shoulder between the neck and arm? 4. Is the lap belt as low as possible, touching the thighs? 5. Can the child stay seated like this for the whole trip?
Once a child has outgrown the booster seat, they may safely ride in an automobile using the seat belt. But always remember that the back seat is the safest place for children to ride. Use Seats Correctly! A correctly used car seat or booster seat can reduce an infant’s risk of death in a passenger car by 71%, and an older child’s risk by 54%. In addition, a child’s risk of injury is reduced 33% simply by moving them from the front seat to the rear seat. Now that you know the facts, you may be wondering if you are using your car seat correctly. Is your car seat current? Most manufacturers include an expiration date with their car seat, which is typically 5 to 8 years from the date of manufacture. So, if this is your second or third child, it may be time to invest in a new seat. Are you using your car seat correctly? Read your owner’s manual! According to the NHTSA, approximately 72% of car seats in use today may be installed or being used in a way that would not adequately protect a child in a crash. The three most common mistakes when using a child seat are 1) not tightening the harness enough, 2) not using the chest clip or not positioning it correctly, and 3) not installing the seat correctly in the vehicle. Make sure that you follow the manufacturer’s user manual when both installing your seat and when buckling in your child. If you have questions about your car seat installation or want to be certain that it is installed properly, you can visit a child safety seat inspection location. Most towns have professionally trained car seat technicians available at no cost to help you install your seat or to inspect a seat you installed yourself. You can find such a location using the NHTSA’s Child Safety Seat Inspection Locator online. The Keane Law Firm cares about your children and is dedicated to keeping kids safe. If you know a child who has been injured in an automobile or other accident, please contact us immediately so we can evaluate your case at absolutely no cost.
The Keane Law Firm 530 Jackson Street, 2nd Floor San Francisco, California 94133 Phone: (415) 398-2777 Toll free: (888) 592-KIDS (5437) Fax: (415) 520-2282 E-mail: [email protected]
Christopher Keane
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California Child Abuse and Child Injury Lawyer