Motor vehicle crash injuries are a leading cause of death for children in the United States. According to the Oklahoma Highway Safety Office, in 2011, 4,288 children, infant to age 8, were involved in motor vehicle crashes. Eleven children were killed and nearly 1,200 were injured. Child safety seats reduce the risk of death in a crash by 71 percent for infants and by 54 percent for toddlers.
Children ages 2 to 5 who use a safety belt too soon are four times more likely to suffer a serious head injury in a crash than those restrained in a proper fitting child safety seat or booster seat. As many as 85 percent of child safety seats are improperly installed and/or used. The most common mistakes parents and caregivers make include:
- Turning the car seat forward-facing (facing the front of the vehicle) before the child reaches age 2 or the upper weight limit of the seat.
- Installing the car seat too loosely.
- Leaving slack in the harness straps.
- Not placing the harness chest clip at armpit level.
- Improper positioning of the seat belt for children in booster seats (e.g., the lap belt resting over the stomach and/or the shoulder belt is on the child’s neck or face).
Following these suggested guidelines from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and Safe Kids Worldwide can help to avoid a serious injury or fatality in the event of a crash:
- Right seat - check the seat’s labels to ensure it is appropriate for your child’s age, height, and weight.
- Right direction - keep your child in a rear-facing seat for as long as possible, usually until age 2.
- Harness straps - should be at or below the shoulders of a child sitting in a rear-facing seat and at or above the shoulders of a child sitting in a forward-facing seat; the harness should fit snugly on the child.
- Tightly installed - you should not be able to move the seat base more than one inch side to side or front to back.
- Booster seats - should only be used with lap/shoulder belts and never with a lap-only belt; lap belt should fit snugly across the upper thighs/hips and can be adjusted using the seat belt adjuster attached to the booster seat.
- Read the manuals - always refer to your specific car seat manufacturer’s instructions; read the vehicle owner’s manual on how to install the car seat using either the seat belt or LATCH system. Never use both systems together.
- Safest location - keep your child in the back seat at least through age 12. Remember even passengers in the back seat have to be buckled in to reduce the risk of injury in a crash.
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For additional child passenger safety information, contact the Oklahoma State Department of Health (OSDH) Injury Prevention Service at (405) 271-3430 or Safe Kids Oklahoma at (405) 271-5695.