The Big Picture
Statistics, Recalls and Common Mistakes
Children at risk
Motor vehicle crashes are the single largest cause of child fatalities in the country, responsible for more than 1,800 deaths of youngsters age 14 and under each year, according to the National Safe Kids Campaign. The Washington D.C.-based child safety advocacy group estimates another 280,000-plus children are injured each year while riding in vehicles.
Yet, safety tests show the risk of injury or death for a child can be reduced as much as 70 percent if an unrestrained child is put into a child safety seat.
Problems with child seat use
Parents may feel that by buying a child seat and putting it in a car that their child is safe, but in reality there's a lot more to it than that.
A federal government study reported 80 percent of child safety seats are not used properly. National Safe Kids, which checked more than 17,000 child safety seats at nationwide checkups, said it found the figure to be closer to 85 percent.
Common child seat mistakes
A government study found the biggest problem with child seats was improper use of locking clips. Follow instructions that come with the child seat, as well as those that come with your vehicle, to see if you need to use the clips and that you're using them correctly.
NHTSA (National Highway Traffic & Safety Administration) also found that more than half of child seats had harness retainer clips that weren't used correctly. Again, follow instructions that accompany the child seat. In general, harness retainer clips should be placed at the level of your child's armpits, according to National Safe Kids.
Ranking third in the NHTSA study of problems was use of harness straps. They should not be loose. According to National Safe Kids, you shouldn't be able to fit more than one of your fingers between a harness strap and your child's collarbone.
In addition, the harness straps should not be twisted. And make sure they're routed correctly through the proper slots on the seat.
Another problem cited by NHTSA was use of the vehicle safety belts. The owner's manual for your vehicle details proper seat belt use. Be sure the belt used with the child seat is firmly locked in its connection, routed correctly with the child seat and holds the seat firmly in place. You should not be able to wiggle the child seat from side to side or pull it forward.
Further down in the list of problems, but still accounting for ten percent of the child seat mistakes reported by NHTSA is positioning of a child seat in the wrong direction inside the car. Rear-facing child seats should only be positioned to face rearward; forward-facing seats should only face forward.
In addition, National Safe Kids notes you should be sure to keep a rear-facing child seat reclined at a 45-degree angle, so it cradles the baby's head.
Consequences of improper child seat use
Some child seat mistakes clearly are dangerousfor example, positioning a child seat the wrong way inside a car or putting a child seat of any sort in front of an active frontal airbag.
But studies haven't yet pinpointed how dangerous some of the other child seat misuses are, things like not using a locking clip correctly or not having the child seat secured as tightly as it could be with the vehicle safety belt. Because we don't know, as a society, which of these problems will be life-threatening, it's important that we make an effort to learn proper child seat use.
Lots to learn
It's not that parents and caregivers aren't paying attention or don't care. They're dealing with more complicated child seats today. Many child seats have recalls, too, that often can go unnoticed by child seat owners. One source for recall and other child seat information is the Internet; many private organizations as well as government agencies have Web pages to help parents wade through the daunting amount of data in circulation.
Below are a few of the important Internet sites dedicated to promoting child safety in automobiles via child seats. Packed with press releases, recalls, safety news and more, these sites are great places to begin gathering information about providing the children in your charge with the safest ride possible.
National Highway Traffic Safety Administration
This site includes links to the new Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards for child seats, a form for reporting problems with a safety seat, a list of safety training programs, and even a state-by state list of individuals who have attended the programs and may be of help.
National SAFE KIDS Campaign
The National SAFE KIDS Campaign is the first and only national organization dedicated to the prevention of unintentional childhood injurythe number-one killer of children ages 14 and under. The site is the home of the SAFE KIDS BUCKLE UP, a national campaign to increase awareness about child seat safety. This site is updated frequently and includes a calendar of Car Seat Check Up events around the U.S.
National Safety Council
This site contains a wealth of information on child seats, child safety, and safety in general.
Safe Ride Helpline Online
The online site of SafetyBeltSafe U.S.A., a nonprofit organization dedicated to child safety. The site includes recalls (including ways to identify your seat, with photos), classes, technical information on seats, frequently asked questions, and links to other sites.
The vehicles in which the seats are installed aren't standardized, either. Some have flat seat cushions, for example, that help make a child seat stable while others have contoured bucket seats that make child seat stability more difficult. Where the seat belt connectors are in a vehicle can help or hinder proper child seat positioning.
Safety falls off as children age
Efforts by child safety advocates seem to be working to get the nation's youngest children into child seats. But statistics show that use of proper restraints declines as a child ages. And you'd be surprised to learn how few laws govern auto safety for children once they leave child safety seatsor how much the laws vary from state to state.
According to a NHTSA phone survey of U.S. parents, 96 percent of newborns travel in child seats all the time, but by age 3, the figure is down to 75 percent. By age 5, just 17 percent of children are in child seats all the time, the survey indicated.
Still, child seatsbe they for newborns, toddlers or older childrencontinue to be the most effective way to protect a child in a vehicle crash. And it almost goes without saying that once a youngster is out of child seats, he or she should always wear seat belts and sit in the back seat, where it is much safer. One of the main problems is keeping kids buckled up as they get older.
Other ways to stay in touch
In case you missed out on those registration opportunities, NHTSA's Web site also provides a child seat safety registration form you can fill out and submit to NHTSA that allows the agency to provide your contact information to the seat manufacturer.
NHTSA maintains a toll-free number for further questions. 1-800-424-9393.
And don't hesitate to inform NHTSA if you have noticed a problem with your child seats. The Web site includes a child seat questionnaire form where you can report defects.
Please Note: The information contained in this Web site is provided solely as a source of general information and resource. It is a not a statement of contract and coverage may not apply in all areas or circumstances. For a complete description of coverages, always read the insurance policy, including all endorsements.