New car seat standards aim to protect kids

By Cynde Rivers

For The Courier-Herald

Parents and even grandparents of children who ride in car seats should take note of new safety recommendations from the American Academy of Pediatrics.

With potentially life-saving implications, the new policy, published in the April issue of the journal Pediatrics, says toddlers should ride in rear-facing car seats until age 2 or until they reach the maximum height and weight for their seat.

The previous policy cited age 12 months and 20 pounds as a minimum threshold to put children in a front-facing seat. As a result, many parents turned the seat to face the front of the car on the child’s first birthday, even though new research has shown it is safest for toddlers to continue to ride in rear-facing seats. A 2007 study in the journal Injury Prevention showed that children under age 2 are 75 percent less likely to die or be severely injured in a crash if they are riding rear-facing.

Car crashes are the leading cause of injury-related death for children younger than 14. A properly installed car seat reduces the risk of fatal injury by up to 71 percent for infants less than 1 year old and 54 percent for toddlers in passenger cars.

The guidelines also advise that most children should ride in a belt-positioning booster seat until they are 4 feet, 9 inches tall and are between the ages of 8 and 12.

Car seat placement and vehicle restraints can be a source of anxiety and frustration for many parents. However, we know that proper placement of children in motor vehicles significantly decreases the risk of injury and death. There is anatomical and physiological support for why children are placed in vehicle restraints during certain developmental stages of their lives.

In Washington state, the law says a child must be restrained in a properly secured child restraint system until the child is 8 years old or 4 feet 9 inches or taller. Children younger than 13 must ride in the back seat when it is practical to do so. The fine for improperly restrained children is at least $112 per child.

A car seat isn’t as useful if it’s not properly installed. It’s estimated that 80 percent to 90 percent of parents use their car seat incorrectly. But there’s an easy remedy: MultiCare Health System offers free car seat inspections by six certified Child Passenger Safety Technicians. The technicians will inspect car seats for recalls and proper installation, provide instructions for proper use and answer safety questions.

Those seeing a technician should take along their child (if possible), their car seat instructions and vehicle owner’s manual.

Free car seat inspections are available at the following sites:

• Mary Bridge Children’s Hospital Safe and Sound Building, 1112 S. 5th St. in Tacoma. Inspections are from 9 to 10:30 a.m. Tuesdays and no appointment is necessary.

• Good Samaritan Hospital, Children’s Therapy Unit, 402 15th Ave. S.E. in Puyallup. Inspections are by appointment only; call 253-403-1417.

Other locations that offer inspections by appointment only include: East Pierce Fire and Rescue, 253-863-1800; Gig Harbor Fire and Medic One, 253-851-5111; Lakewood Fire Department: 253-983-4579; Joint Base Lewis-McChord AFB Fire Department, 253-982-2603.

Technicians can answers questions such as: How do I choose the right car safety seat for my child? Where can I get help installing it in my car correctly? Where can I purchase a car safety seat?

The Center for Childhood Safety at Mary Bridge Children’s Hospital is committed to preventing serious and fatal injuries by providing education and resources both to the hospital and the community. Anyone with questions about car seats, or wishing to be referred to other car seat fitting stations in the area, can call the Mary Bridge Car Seat Helpline at 253-403-1417.

Cynde Rivers is a registered nurse and Emergency Medical Services coordinator for MultiCare Mary Bridge Children’s Hospital Emergency Department in Tacoma. For more information, visit

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