Include car seats in summer safety check

By Cynde Rivers

For The Courier-Herald

Car crashes are the leading cause of death for children younger than 14 and the number of car crashes increase during the summer months – a time medical professionals call “trauma season.”

Why? Simple: There are more vehicles on the road and more drivers traveling with their families, rather than alone. Parents want to protect their children and many times we hear them say “I just didn’t know.”

So, how do we protect our children? The best way is to assure that they are placed in appropriate car seats, booster seats or lap/shoulder harnesses.

While it may seem frustrating to determine what is best for your child, the recommendations are simple to follow.

Rear-facing to age 2

Children up to age 2 are safest in a rear-facing car seat – five times safer than in a forward-facing car seat. The rear-facing position offers extra protection against head and spine injuries.

When your child outgrows his or her infant-only car seat, the next step is a convertible car seat with a higher rear-facing weight and height limits.

Booster Seats

Booster seats are for kids who have outgrown their harnessed car seat, but aren’t big enough to be protected by an adult seat belt. Washington state law requires that children ride in a child restraint (car seat or booster seat) until at least age 8 or 4 feet, 9 inches tall. Booster seats require the use of a lap/shoulder seat belt, never with just a lap-only belt.

Lap and shoulder belt

To wear a lap and shoulder belt without a booster seat, the lap belt must fit across the bony area of your child’s hips (below the belly button) and the shoulder strap must fit between the shoulder and the neck (not touching the neck at all), between the nipple line and fit security at the hip. If this cannot occur in your vehicle, your child needs to be placed in a booster seat.

Back Seat

Washington state law requires that children younger than 13 ride in the back seat. You may see many children arrive or leave elementary school in the front seat. But that doesn’t make it OK. None of the children attending elementary school is 13 years old.

There are sound reasons why a child should be placed in the back seat:

• Adult bodies have a layer of tissue to protect their brain and internal organs from injuries. Children do not.

• The higher bone density of the adult is better able to spread and withstand crash forces than the weak boney structure of a child.

• Even “adult-size” children do not have “adult-strong” bodies. While a child may be tall or large for their age, they are still a child.

• Front passenger airbags can cause serious or fatal injuries to a child. But even when there are no airbags present, riding in the back seat reduces the risk of serious injury by 40 percent.

Many families seeking summertime adventures go to areas close to home. Parents may feel it is a “hassle” to strap their child into the car appropriately, especially since most back roads have a lower speed limit. But an unrestrained (or improperly restrained) child in a car traveling 30 mph who is involved in a car crash, is the same as that child falling from a third-story window.

As parents, it is our responsibility to set the rules of how our children travel in cars and to set a good example by following the rules ourselves.

A minute of your time is all it takes to protect your child and hopefully health care providers won’t see you at Mary Bridge this summer.

Cynde Rivers is a pediatric emergency nurse for Mary Bridge Children’s Hospital and has worked there for 22 years. She is also the mother of two elementary school-aged boys.

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