Can you imagine strapping a 10 year old into a giant, rear-facing car seat and then heading down the highway?
(I guess technically they can strap themselves in…But you get the picture.)
There are some people who do this in Scandinavian countries, specifically Sweden — the country that gave us Volvo and the first generation of car seats (adult not child) built for rear-impact crashes.
The whole idea seems weird to the American mind…Especially the Boomers and above, who like to tell stories about crawling around the back seat and laying below the rear window while in motion at 80 mph.
Maybe you’ve said it…Or you’ve heard someone say: “Sometimes I wonder how we even made it this far alive…”
It’s true that we’re far more safety conscious now than we were a few generations ago. Especially when it comes to potential accidents and injuries that can happen in cars, and our car seats reflect that.
Most infants are strapped into plastic and Styrofoam padded fortresses.
But there are car seat safety advocates that say we’re not going far enough based on what we know about the human body and crash physics once children can no longer fit in an infant carrier.
And that can mean that children are at risk for no reason.
Three mistakes parents are making with strapping kids into cars
So what exactly is going on according to safety advocates?
1. Parents are turning their kids forward facing sooner than they should.
Once kids are out of the infant carrier and they go into a high-backed car seat, they should stay in that seat in a rear-facing position until they reach the height and weight limit for that seat in the rear-facing position.
For many kids that’s going to happen around the age of 2. Or about 35 lbs. That’s what’s safe and legal according to US law.
But some kids are tall for their age, and may be turned sooner than the weight limit. And this can be dangerous as their necks’ don’t have the muscle tone to deal with their larger toddler heads, and neck injuries occur.
Sometimes very deadly neck injuries.
And other kids (like some of mine) are escape artists, and the constant hassle of wondering if the kid has unbuckled himself and climbing into the backseat inspires mom or dad to turn the seat around to keep an eye on junior.
2. Low back boosters are being used instead of high-back boosters.
Low back boosters are hard to use properly with seat belts built for adults. They are better than no booster, but not by much.
The problem is that the lap belt needs to fit snugly on the child’s lower pelvis to keep them in the seat. That’s almost impossible without a booster.
But some kids are just not developed enough in their structure to have the lap and shoulder belt to be resisting the forces of a crash at the right place even with a booster.
In many cases, they get squeezed out underneath the lap belt and can be killed by the belt itself.
Some parents have found boosters with a middle lap clip to help keep the belt in the right place.
Others opt for the bulkier and less convenient high back booster with a five point harness…But there’s a problem here too, as we see below.
3. The law itself offers a false sense of security leading parents into acceptance of less than ideal circumstances.
This brings us back to Sweden, where even young tweens are being strapped into a rear facing seats…
We like to assume if something is legal it’s probably because it’s safe. But what it actually means is that there’s a recognized minimum standard for safety.
In some states it’s still legal to ride a motorcycle without a helmet. But no one would argue that it’s safe.
Safety advocates say current minimums offer a false sense of security to parents because
- Many children are just too young and too small to safely use adult seat belts, even with a booster at elementary age
- Five point harnesses offer the best belting option, but aren’t mandated to be built for rear facing beyond the age of 2, when real life experience show forward facing neck injuries even in small tweens!
The reality is most cars and trucks aren’t built for rear facing elementary age children, and neither are most car seats. But if some parents were aware of the risks associated with forward facing too soon, and the difficulty of keeping adult seat-belts in the proper location…that might change.
So, what can you do? Car seat safety tips
If you or someone you know still has a child in a car seat, keep these tips in mind:
- Make sure straps aren’t twisted or unbalanced in tension, as that makes them ineffective
- A light jacket is all kids should wear in a car seat on their upper body…Anything heavier will allow them to slip out of the belt in a high impact collision
- The straps should be snug with the chest clip actually up on the chest, down near the bottom of the neck
- Keep the child rear facing as long as possible based on the specs of the seat you’re using, and consider shopping for a seat that allows you to keep the child facing rearward for longer
- If the seat has been handed down a few times, consider leaving it for curbside pickup, and instead go out and get a new seat
Consider sharing this information as it can save a life. Even in a low impact collision.
Safe car seat resources for parents and caregivers
And if you want to see a guidebook on this kind of information, you can visit Project Safe Kids, who has a certifications program for tech’s who want to get certified (think Fire/EMS) in fitting kids in seats properly.