Most parents know that babies and toddlers need to be restrained in car seats — properly installed and adjusted — every time they ride in a car. Unfortunately, sometimes we don’t do nearly as good a job protecting older kids, those who should be riding on booster seats. While babies and toddlers ride restrained more than 90 percent of the time, children ages 4 to 7 ride restrained only 73 percent of the time. That’s a huge difference.
No one likes to think about tragedy, but a recent study shows that 4- to 8-year-olds not riding in booster seats are three times as likely to have an abdominal injury in a crash when compared to children in booster seats. A booster seat protects a child from serious spinal cord and abdominal injuries caused by improper seat-belt fit. The data also show that children are 40 percent more likely to be injured when riding in the front seat, compared to those seated in a back.
Kids who have outgrown car seats (which typically fit children up to 40 pounds), are safer riding on booster seats until they’re at least 4 feet 9 inches tall and weigh at least 80 pounds. Many children do not reach this point until age 10 or older.
How can you tell if your child should be in a booster seat? Do these simple tests when the child is sitting in the car without a booster:
* Have your child sit all the way back on the vehicle seat. Check to see if the knees bend at the seat edge. If they bend naturally, move on to the next step. If they do not, return to the booster seat.
* Buckle the lap and shoulder belts. Be sure the lap belt lies on the upper legs or hips. If it stays on the upper legs or thighs, move on to the next step. If it does not, return to the booster seat.
* Be sure the shoulder belt lies on the shoulder or collarbone. If it lies on the shoulder, move on to the next step. If it is on the face or neck, return to the booster seat. Do not place the shoulder belt under the arm or behind the child’s back! In the event of a crash, this positioning can cause serious injury.
* Be sure your child can maintain that correct seating position for as long as you are in the car. If your child begins to slouch or shift positions so the safety belt contacts the face, neck or stomach, return your child to the booster seat until all these steps can be met.
Choosing a booster seat
A “high-back, belt-positioning booster” is used with a lap and shoulder belt, and provides head and neck support for your child. If your vehicle seat back does not have head support, and the tops of your child’s ears are above the edge of the seat back, a high-back booster must be used.
A “backless belt-positioning booster seat” is also used with a lap and shoulder belt. These boosters are for use in vehicles with built-in head support, or if your child’s ears do not clear the edge of the seat back.
A “shield booster” should not be used with the shield when the child is over 40 pounds. Since children under 40 pounds are best protected by a full-harness system, we don’t recommend shield boosters.
Recommendations for all child safety seats, boosters
* Choose one that properly fits your child — children come in all shapes and sizes. So do seats.
* Choose one that fits properly in your vehicle. Not all child safety seats fit in all vehicles. Ask to try it at the store before you buy it.
* Read and follow the instructions that come with the child safety seat and the instructions that come in your vehicle owner’s manual.
* Never use a seat with an unknown history. Like most safety equipment, car seats are made to withstand the forces of only one crash and should then be replaced.
* Do not use a car seat that is more than 6 years old, as suggested by the Juvenile Products Manufacturers Association.
* Mail in the registration card that came with the seat. This allows the manufacturer to notify you if a recall occurs — and they often do. Call the 800-number posted on the label of the seat if you are unsure if your seat has been recalled.
Simply put, child passenger safety is not just about babies and toddlers. It’s a commitment that lasts as long as childhood.
* Alicia Ullom is the injury prevention coordinator for Yakima Valley Memorial Hospital and coordinator of Safe Kids Yakima County. She is a certified health education specialist and a certified child passenger safety technician. Her column is produced in cooperation with Safe Kids Yakima County — a local consortium of organizations, agencies and individuals actively promoting child safety.