Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Car Seat Safety

 This is a big and controversial issue but I have an opinion and I'd like share it.  Hopefully, it won't scare anyone away!

Let me preface this by telling you that I am not perfect.  I've made my fair share of mistakes.  Also, let me apologize ahead of time should I sound like I'm on a soap-box.  That is not my intention.  My intention is to share my opinion as well as the reasoning behind my opinion. 

When Adam was young, I turned him around in his car seat when he hit 20lbs and if I recall correctly, he was not a year old yet.  The only people I talked to about parenting stuff at the time were my parents and things had changed so much from when I was a child that their advice was outdated so no longer the best advice.  They meant well though and I'm grateful to have had their help.

I was 16 when I had him so I was completely clueless and thought that it was 20 lbs OR 1 year and that he was completely safe forward facing.

When he was about 3, I put him in a booster seat (with a back) because he exceeded the height and weight limits of his car seat.

I never thought he was unsafe.  I trusted the products I bought and trusted that the ages listed on the box were safe ages for use.  It wasn't until I was pregnant with Logan that I learned differently.

First and foremost, the law in a lot of states is that a child must remain rear-facing until they are 20 lbs AND 1 year old.  Both criteria have to be met.  After they are 20 lbs AND 1 year old, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) now recommends that you leave them rear-facing for as long as possible.  The 20lbs and 1 year criteria are minimum requirements and do not mean that you must turn them around.  When they are rear-facing, they are safest.  During an accident, the rear-facing seat will essentially cocoon up against the seat and create a little protective bubble for your little one.  As long as they haven't exceeded the height and weight limits, this is the safest place for them to be during an accident.

When you must turn them around, they should be in a 5 point harness until the time that they can move to a booster seat.  You'll have to check your state laws but it is illegal in most circumstances to put a child under the age of 4 in a booster seat in the state of PA.  Yes, you read that correctly, if they are not 4 years old, you cannot legally put them into a booster seat in PA.  This is not up for debate.  This is a legal fact.  There are some exemptions but for most children, they must remain in a 5 point harness car seat until they are 4 years old.

Again, the law is a minimum guideline.  You do not need to put them into a booster at 4 if they still fit in their car seat.  A 5 point harness is going to offer far more protection than a standard lap/shoulder belt can.  The current recommendation is to leave them in the car seat for as long as possible until they exceed the height/weight limits.

When you do move them to a booster, you must once again check your states laws.  In PA, a child must remain in a booster seat until they are 8 years old.

The PA law reads as follows: 

"§ 4581. Restraint systems.
(a) Occupant protection.--
(1) Any person who is operating a passenger car, Class I truck, Class II truck, classic motor vehicle, antique motor vehicle or motor home and who transports a child under four years of age anywhere in the motor vehicle, including the cargo area, shall fasten such child securely in a child passenger restraint system"
There is little room for argument as you can see because it does specifically say any child under four (4) years of age must be in a car seat.

"(1.1) Any person who is operating a passenger car, Class I truck, Class II truck, classic motor vehicle, antique motor vehicle or motor home and who transports a child four years of age or older but under eight years of age anywhere in the motor vehicle, including the cargo area, shall fasten such child securely in a fastened safety seat belt system and in an appropriately fitting child booster seat"

Again, very little room for debate here. The only questionable thing is the fact that it does leave room for one to interpret that you must legally switch your 4 year old to a booster seat.  I, however; do not believe that it was meant to be interpreted that way as that is just nonsense.  Again, a 5 point harness will obviously provide more protection.

Finally, the exemption:
"(g) Exemptions.--Exemptions will be allowed if it is determined, according to the rules and regulations of the department, that the use of a child passenger restraint system or child booster seat would be impractical for physical reasons including, but not limited to, medical reasons or size of the child."
 Yes, this last bit quite literally means that if your child has a medical reason or is legitimately too big for a car seat, they can use a booster or if they are legitimately too big for a booster, they can use the standard lap/shoulder seat belt.  This is probably not a judgment you will be able to make on your own as there are car seats out there that go to 70 lbs, 80lbs, convertibles that go to 65 lbs with the harness and 100lbs with the belt positioning booster, and boosters that go to 100lbs.  I wouldn't be surprised if you were just required to get another seat if the child has outgrown their seat but is still within a size and age where a proper restraint system can be used.  Can't afford one? Well that's fine too! The government often has programs for free seats!  PA has a fund in place for our citizens just for that:
"§ 4582. Child Passenger Restraint Fund.
A Child Passenger Restraint Fund is established in the General Fund as a special restricted receipts account hereby earmarked for and appropriated to the department. This fund
shall consist of all fines deposited pursuant to section 4581(b) (relating to restraint systems), all Federal funds granted for said use and any moneys donated into the fund. All such funds shall be used solely for the purpose of purchasing Federally approved child restraint seats or appropriately fitting child booster seats and making such seats available to qualified loaner programs within the Commonwealth. A qualified loaner program shall be one determined by the department to loan Federally approved child restraint seats or appropriately fitting child booster seats to parents or legal guardians of children under eight years of age who, due to financial or economic hardship, are unable to comply with the provisions of this subchapter. The department shall adopt such regulations as are necessary to effectuate the purpose of this section.
(July 15, 2004, P.L.694, No.75, eff. 60 days)"

You can view the law here: http://www.dmv.state.pa.us/pdotforms/vehicle_code/chapter45.pdf

Do you think it's harsh? I don't.  I look at it this way, being in a car seat for an extended period of time will in no way hurt your child (as long as they fit).  Sure they'll whine that their friends don't have to use it but I would much rather have a whiny and safe child than have the horrible misfortune of getting into an accident and having them get hurt.

Xander is the only one of my boys who is still rear-facing but Logan was rear-facing for a long time and Xander will be too for as long as possible.  Why? Again, the seat acts as a bubble during a collision.

Logan is still in his 5 point harness and will stay there despite being 4 years old and 40lbs. Why? It is my opinion, as well as many professionals,  that a 5 point harness offers far more protection.

Adam is currently booster-seatless but this is not my choice.  This is a battle that I lost.  I still feel that he needs it but circumstances have risen (for example, people believing that I am both a know-it-all and a worry wart and I do tend to worry a lot, but, I find the former to be insulting.) that have basically led to him being without his seat.  Believe-you-me, I am NOT a happy Danielle.  We will be doing the 5 step check with Adam and if I am not satisfied, he will be returning to his booster.  Why?  I've read horror story after horror story about internal decapitation.   Google it if you'd like (but it's really exactly what it sounds like and it's from the seat-belt hitting the neck with extreme force due to improper positioning)- but be warned, it is not pleasant.  It is of the utmost importance to me that the shoulder belt properly fits Adam (and the other boys when they're older).  His life is far more important to me than what his friends are doing.

This is such a huge thing that most people debate over but I can't really figure out why.  It is just flat out illegal in a lot of states to turn your child forward facing before 1 year AND 20 lbs, put them in a booster before 4, and put them in the standard lap/shoulder belt before they're 7 or 8 so why are people debating it?  It's against the law! It's not really open for argument.  The only thing that is open for discussion is whether you should turn them around promptly at 1 year AND 20 lbs, put them in a booster promptly at 4, or into a seat-belt as soon as the law allows.  Everything else is required by law.  If you ask "should I turn my 22 lb, 9 month old dear child forward facing?" the answer should always be "No." because it's both unsafe and illegal.

So should you turn your child around even though they haven't exceeded the height/weight limits? In my opinion, no.  Should you put your child in a booster even though they still fit in their car seat? Again, in my opinion, no.  Should you let your 4 foot tall, 8 year old ride without his booster seat? Well, I don't think so.

Here's the bottom line folks- they're your kids.  Ultimately it's your call to make but remember: you love them, you want them safe, and putting them into that seat is not hurting anything whereas not using the seat may result in someone being hurt.  Sure, you could be the safest driver out there, but the legobucket* in the lane next to you may not be.  If that LB comes swerving into your lane, there's not going to be much you can do to avoid the collision.  At least drive knowing that your children are properly secured.  That's my view anyway.

You don't have to follow my advice.  I'm not some big professional person who is paid to know this stuff.  I'm just some person, on the internet who's blog you're reading.  I am, however, providing you with the links to reputable sources so that you can educate yourself on the matter and make an informed decision for your children and their safety.

AAP Recommendations:

5 Step Check:

PA laws:

NY laws:

Please search for your states laws to find the most up to date and accurate information for your state but also remember- the laws are minimum requirements, the AAP policy reflects the current safety recommendations.  I found my states laws by searching for "PA car seat laws" but "[your state]'s child restraint laws" should work as well.

I do apologize again if any of that came off soap-boxy.  This is my opinion and you certainly are entitled to your own but I wanted to share mine and the sources of it. :)

*The term "Legobucket" arose when I was a child and my uncle swore at a passing car while driving.  My mom asked him if he could find another word because I was in the car and he started calling people "Legobuckets" instead of bad names.

Best wishes, and as always, DFTBA.

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