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Color Their World - Safe! Articles on child health and safety, from Nanny's Place

Boost Your Child's Safety
with a Booster Seat

Is your preschool or early grade school child using an adult seat belt without a booster seat when he rides in a motor vehicle? If the answer is yes, he could be seriously injured in a crash.

Recent research by the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia into how and why children are hurt and injured in car accidents has discovered that children in adult seat belts are four times more likely to suffer from head, brain and other serious injuries than children who have been placed in car seats or booster seats. In addition, children in seat belts suffered the only reported cases of abdominal injuries. (A PDF copy of the preliminary report can be found at http://www.chop.edu/pr/.)

The reason is simple: The protection a passenger gets from a seat belt depends on its correct use and fit, and adult seat belts are designed to fit adults, not children. A safety belt fits correctly when the lap belt rides low over the hips and the shoulder belt crosses the sternum and shoulder. This usually doesn’t happen until your child is nine years old, weighs about 80 pounds and is at least 4 feet 9 inches tall. The most important factor seems to be height, as she needs to be tall enough to sit without slouching, her back against the car seat, feet on the floor and knees bent at the edge of the seat.

If you put your child into an adult seat belt before she is big enough, the lap belt tends to ride up over her abdomen, while the shoulder belt crosses her neck or face. This is uncomfortable and can cause serious injuries in a crash.

When your child outgrows her infant seat she should ride in a convertible or forward-facing child safety seat with a harness until she weighs 40 pounds, usually around 4 years old. When she outgrows her safety seat (when her shoulders are above the top set of strap slots), it’s time for her to move to a booster seat.

Belt-positioning booster seats raise your child high enough so that he is able to use the adult lap and shoulder belts both safety and comfortably. The lap belt fits properly and spreads crash forces over your child’s hips rather than the soft abdomen, reducing the risk of abdominal injuries. And the properly positioned shoulder belt limits the movements of your child’s upper body and head in a crash, preventing serious injuries to the brain, head, spinal cord, liver and spleen.

You should get a booster seat with a high back if your vehicle has no head restraint for your child. Some booster seats have removable shields and can be used without the shield for correct seat belt fit. Currently, these shields have not been approved for children weighing more than 40 pounds. (And since children under 40 pounds should be in a child safety seat, I don’t see much point to getting a shield booster seat at all. One of my references said that shield boosters are no longer recommended because they don’t provide enough upper body protection.)

Do not be tempted to make an adult seat belt fit your child more comfortably by putting the shoulder belt under his arm or behind his back, or by not using it at all. If a child is using only the lap belt, his upper body will be thrown forward in case of a crash and an improperly positioned shoulder belt can cause serious or fatal injuries.

Don’t use shoulder belt--deflecting devices. There are not regulated, do not help with the problem of lap belt fit and may degrade overall seat belt performance. Also don’t use pillows, towels, books or other objects to raise your child to the correct height. These can slide around and would be very likely to do just that if there was a crash.


Other things to remember:

•All children under 12 should ride properly restrained in the back seat, which is generally safer than the front, since most vehicle crashes are head on.

•Your baby should ride in a rear-facing infant seat or convertible seat until she is one year old and weighs over 20 pounds

•A rear-facing infant seat should never be placed in a seat with an air bag. In a crash, the bag would inflate very rapidly and hit the infant seat hard enough to seriously injure or kill the baby.

•Never place your child in a child safety seat in the front seat of a vehicle with an air bag.

•Be sure to read the booster or child safety seat instructions and your vehicle owner’s manual before installing the seat.

If you have an infant, please read this article about infant seats.

Also, please check these resources:


Family Shopping Guide to Car Seats Safety and Product Information from the American Academy of Pediatrics

http://www.nhtsa.dot.gov/people/injury/childps/newtips/index.html
Index to 14 pages of information about car seat safety

http://www.nhtsa.dot.gov/people/injury/childps/Boosterseat/booster.html
This page has links to several useful pdf files, including one for children

http://www.nhtsa.dot.gov/people/injury/childps/Boosterseat/talking.html
This page includes a chart for proper child safety seat use

Air Bag Safety Card

Air Bag Safety Q&A

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Last updated Sun, Jun 4, 2006

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