Motor vehicle crashes are a leading cause of death for children ages 1 to 13, reports the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
During national Child Passenger Safety Week this week, Sept. 15-21, the Wisconsin Department of Transportation and the Wisconsin State Patrol will remind parents, grandparents and caregivers that consistent and proper use of child safety restraints in vehicles can be a matter of life or death.
In addition, the State Patrol will begin delivery of child safety seats to approximately 25 hospitals, clinics and child passenger safety technicians for distribution to eligible low-income expectant mothers and families.
The 500 infant safety seats and 400 booster seats for statewide distribution were purchased with federal funding.
"The best way to protect children in vehicles is to put them in the right seat, at the right time, and use it the right way," says David Pabst, director of the Wisconsin Department of Transportation Bureau of Transportation Safety.
To help determine the proper safety seat (based on a child's age and size) and how to use it, Wisconsin Department of Transportation offers an instructional video available on its Zero In Wisconsin program web site at www.zeroinwisconsin.gov/ChildSafetySeats/.
"For many parents, grandparents and caregivers, the installation and proper use of child safety seats can be confusing," Pabst says.
"And the types and placement of child safety seats change as your child grows. The Zero In Wisconsin video on 'How to Properly Use Child Safety Seats in Wisconsin' provides easy-to-follow and comprehensive instructions so you can protect your child in your vehicle," Pabst said in a statement.
"This video also will be a great child safety seat reference resource as your child grows .We hope that everyone who transports children will review our video to ensure they are fully protecting their precious passengers," he said.
Common Misuses of Child Safety Seats
If used correctly, child seats save lives and prevent injury, says the American Academy of Family Physicians. Unfortunately, because they are complicated, they are commonly misused. The following points from the American Academy of Family Physicians summarize important aspects of child seats:
- Rear-facing seats should not be used in front of an airbag. The airbag can cause fatal injury to the child in the event of a crash that deploys the bag.
- Children are safer facing to the rear until they weigh 20 pounds and are at least one year of age.
- The child's height and weight should be appropriate for the seat. Each child seat is labeled with its weight and height limits.
- Infant seats can only be used in a rear-facing position.
- Convertible safety seats are designed to face rearward or forward, but each direction has weight limits. The child seat manual or the seat's label lists its rear-facing weight limit.
- A child seat should not be used in a side-facing seat (some trucks have side-facing rear seats).
- The parents should ensure that the correct seat-belt path is being used. When the seat is rear-facing, there is a different place to put the seat belt than when the seat is forward-facing.
- Car seats are often too loosely attached to the car. There should be no more than 1 inch of side-to-side motion when the seat is pulled forcefully at the seat-belt path.
- Tether straps decrease motion of a child's head by attaching the child seat-back to an anchor in the car. These straps can only be used in newer cars that have tether anchor sites (the automobile instruction manual should point them out).
- To maintain the infant's airway, the back of a rear-facing child seat should be at a 45-degree angle from the ground. Many seats have a positioning needle to assist in finding this angle.
- Infant seats often have a carrier handle or sun shield; these options should be in the down position while traveling.
- Harness straps should be snug enough that you cannot pinch the harness strap (lengthwise, not crosswise).
- To maximize their strength, harness straps should be flat and free of knots. Straps should not be ironed or placed in a dryer; the heat makes them brittle.
- The harness clip should be at the arm-pit level. If the clip is lower, the infant may slip out of the harness.
- In a child seat that is facing rearward, the harness straps should be at or below the level of the shoulder.
- In a child seat that faces forward, the harness straps should be in a reinforced harness slot position. Only the reinforced position is able to withstand the force of the forward crash without ripping the plastic. If there is more than one reinforced position, the harness straps should be at or above the level of the shoulder when the child is forward facing. Slots in the seat back allow for this adjustment.
- Bulky clothes (such as winter coats) create slack in the harness. They should not be worn under the harness straps. After the harness is secured, a blanket can cover the child.
- Replacing a child-seat part or altering the seat may weaken the device. Missing or broken parts should be obtained only through the manufacturer.
- Parents should be taught how to check the seat for recalls. Even relatively new seats may have dangerous flaws. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration Auto Safety Hotline: 1-888-DASH-2-DOT (1-888-327-4236), offers information about child safety seat recalls.
- Child seats that have been in a crash should be discarded (in a way that prevents them from being reused by anyone else) and replaced, even if they look fine.
- A seat that is more than 10 years old should not be used, and it is best practice not to use a seat that is more than six years old. Older seats are not designed to the same safety standards as current seats.