Is your child safe in a seat belt?

Kids are now in full swing returning to school, and often parents are driving more than just their own children to and from school and extracurricular activities.

Passenger safety is important at all ages, and I wanted discuss how to determine if your child needs a booster seat vs. a seat belt.  And by the way, you may not know this, but I am also a certified Child Passenger Safety Technician!

What is a booster seat, and who needs to use it?

A booster seat is a middle step between a car seat with a harness and a seatbelt. They protect kids who are too large for a car seat and too small for just the seatbelt.

Some have high backs with slots that place the lap/shoulder belt in just the right position for safety.  Others are just backless bases kids sit on that help the belts fit correctly and typically have a guiding slot for the lap belt. They are easily moved from car to car and should be used if your young passengers can’t pass the 5 point test.

When is a child ready for a seatbelt?

This is often tricky because the fit of the seatbelt may be different for each vehicle, or even which seat is used.  Additionally, it’s so common for parents to assume a child is ready way too early.  Studies have shown that only 10% of 8 year olds, 30% of 9 year olds, and just 50% of 10 year olds actually are safely restrained in a seatbelt.  And because children in boosters are half as likely to be injured in a crash, compared with kids in seatbelts, it’s especially important to know what it means to be seatbelt-ready.

So here is a life-saving tool to use with their kids.  It’s  a 5-point test that helps easily determine if a child is safely restrained by a seatbelt.

How does a child pass?

All FIVE questions must be answered yes, otherwise your child (or a passenger in your carpool) has to use a booster.

#1  Are you sitting all the way back against the auto seat? The belts will only work if they are tight across the shoulders. In the event of a crash, slack in the belt by a child sitting forward won’t protect the head and neck – increasing risk of critical brain injury.

#2  Do your child’s knees bend comfortably at the edge of the auto seat? If they don’t a child will literally slip under the seatbelt and ”submarine” into the front seat, incurring severe injury in a crash.

#3 Does the belt cross your shoulder between your child’s neck and arm (mid collarbone)?  If it doesn’t, it can cause strangulation if too near the neck, or place the brain at risk if the shoulder belt is held under the arm.

#4  Is the lap belt as low as possible, touching your child’s thighs (NOT around your waist)? In a crash, if the lap belt is around the waist, critical internal injuries occur from compression of the abdominal contents, liver and spleen.

#5  Can your child stay seated like this the whole trip? Do you have a fidgety child, one with hyperactivity, or developmentally just not able to maintain a safe position during a ride. If so, a booster seat or higher weight ca rseat with 5 point harness is the safest way to go.

What if you have a car full of kids….who goes in the front seat?

Children under 13 years of age should ride in the back seat. They are safer from injury if properly restrained. If a child must sit in the front, due to space considerations, let it be the oldest child, capable of belting in properly.  If a child is in the front seat, the vehicle seat must be moved back as far as possible from the dashboard – otherwise airbag deployment in a child can result in facial and chest injuries.

For more information on best practices for safely securing your children in vehicles, please go to www.nhtsa.gov (the National Highway and Transportation Safety Association)