Several years ago, I knew that our messages about child passenger safety were getting across to families. During a check-up, a mother asked whether it made sense to buy the new pink booster seat that her 7-year-old daughter wanted, asking me, “How much longer should she sit in a booster?” My answer: I’m so glad she likes her booster and that you are protecting your child! She needs to be in the booster until she reaches 4 feet 9 inches in height, likely not until your petite daughter reaches 12 years of age. While adult seat belts are better than no restraint at all, booster seats position the belt across the chest and thighs so that the belt can do the best job in protecting children.
For many parents, ensuring that their 15-month-old is securely fastened into their rear-facing child safety seat or their 7-year-old is in a booster seat is part of their daily routine. It may be hard to believe, but not so long ago these actions were more often “the exception” than “the rule” when it came to child passenger safety. Since the late 1990’s, there has been a remarkable increase in child restraint system (CRS) use through age 8: from 51 percent in 1999 to 80 percent in 2007 (click here to view a chart showing this progress). This has translated into a 46 percent reduction of child traffic fatalities from 2001 to 2010. This progress can be attributed to increased legislation, education, and improvements to safety technology in motor vehicles.
While the good news is that today’s parents and caretakers know the importance of using a CRS to keep their children safe in motor vehicles, there is a new challenge to be tackled - ensuring that children are accurately and securely restrained in the correct CRS. In 2004, a survey completed by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) found that 72.6 percent of child restraints observed in parking areas throughout the United States had at least one “critical” misuse, this included:
- Not using the appropriate CRS for the child’s age
- Incorrectly attaching the CRS to the vehicle,
- Not harnessing the child in the CRS correctly
Any of these types of misuse can introduce movement (child loose in the seat or seat loose in the vehicle) that, in the event of a crash, can result in sudden jerking, impact of the child with the inside of the vehicle or worst of all, ejection from the seat. More recently, NHTSA released the National Child Restraint Use Special Study, completed in the summer of 2011. This nationally representative study of U.S. children from birth to age 8 specifically identified the five most common types of CRS installation errors. The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) has created a checklist for parents and caregivers that explains these errors and how to avoid them. You can access the checklist here.