This week – September 15 through 21 – is celebrated annually as National Child Passenger Safety Week throughout the United States. In conjunction with the campaign, researchers with the National Highway Traffic Safety Association (NHTSA) have released data about child injuries from car accidents in hopes of better educating parents about the risks.
According to data from researchers at the NHTSA, there are thousands of children injured or killed in car accidents each year in the U.S. What’s even worse is that despite comprehensive child passenger safety laws that exist in most states in the country, approximately 75 percent of all children are improperly secured in their child safety seats which increases the chances of child injuries from car accidents.
Washington State Child Seat Laws
Like many other states in the U.S., Washington state has established a relatively comprehensive set of child safety laws when it comes to riding in a motor vehicle. When followed appropriately, these laws can help prevent child injuries from car accidents, which can cause long-term complications in some cases and can forever affect the child’s future. The laws for children in vehicles in Washington state are as follows:
Children under eight years old must be restrained in an appropriate child restraint system, such as a car seat or booster seat. If the child is taller than 4’9” then they are not required to ride in a child restraint system, but must properly wear the vehicle’s safety belt.
Children under the age of 13 are required to ride in the back seat of a vehicle where it is practical to do so.
Child restraint systems must be installed and utilized correctly according to instructions from both the child restraint manufacturer and the vehicle manufacturer.
The King County Public Health office recommends that parents follow the American Academy of Pediatrics’ (AAP) recommendations regarding car and booster seats. The AAP’s recommendations are as follows:
Keep infants and toddlers in rear-facing car seats until at least 2 years old or until they reach the highest weight or height allowed by the manufacturer of the car seat.
All children age 2 or older, or those younger than 2 who have outgrown the rear-facing seat, should use a forward-facing car seat with a harness for as long as possible, up to the highest weight or height allowed by the manufacturer of the car seat.
All children who have outgrown the forward-facing car seat should use a belt-positioning booster seat until the vehicle’s lap-and-should seat belt fits properly, typically when they reach 4’9″ tall and are between 8 and 12 years of age.
When children are old enough and large enough to use the vehicle seat belt alone, they should always use lap-and shoulder seat belts for optimal protection.
All children younger than 13 years should be restrained in the rear seats of vehicles for optimal protection.
Preventing Child Injuries from Car Accidents
The American Automobile Association (AAA) has recognized over the years that there are a few common mistakes that are typically made by parents that can increase the risk of child injuries from car accidents. Taking a few extra moments to properly prepare a child before departing can make all the difference in the child’s safety.
Below is a list of a few of the common mistakes made by parents when placing young children inside of a motor vehicle:
1. Not using a safety seat. Whether an infant, toddler or booster seat-age child, parents should always use the appropriate child restraint system every time their children are in a vehicle. Safety seats reduce the risk of fatal injury by 71 percent for infants and by 54 percent for toddlers according to NHTSA. And, using a booster seat with a seat belt for older children instead of a seat belt alone reduces the risk of injury by 59 percent.
2. Not reading safety seat instructions. With thousands of combinations of child safety seats and vehicle belt systems, it’s important for parents to read both the vehicle owner’s manual and the child safety seat instructions before installing a seat to ensure it’s done properly.
3. Using restraints for older children too soon. Whether it’s turning an infant forward-facing or progressing into an adult seat belt, parents frequently advance their children into the stage of safety restraints too soon. In 2011, the American Academy of Pediatrics updated their recommendations for rear-facing toddlers. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that toddlers not be turned to face forward until they are at least age two and the maximum weight for the seat. All children under age 13 should be placed in the back seat.
4. Installing safety seats too loosely. When a child safety seat is properly installed, it should fit tightly, and not move more than one inch in any direction. Use either the vehicle’s seat belt or LATCH system to secure the safety seat—but not both, unless approved by the vehicle and car seat manufacturers. If using a seat belt, make sure it is locked to hold the seat snugly in place.
5. Adjusting seat harnesses incorrectly. Safety seat harnesses should always be snug and lie flat without twists. Harnesses should be at or below the child’s shoulders when rear-facing and at or above the shoulders when forward-facing in order to hold the child’s body upright and against the seat. The chest clip should be positioned at armpit level.
6. Keeping loose items in vehicle. Any loose items in a vehicle, such as purses, laptop bags or umbrellas can become dangerous projectiles in a crash or sudden stop and cause severe injury to a child, other passengers or the driver. Make sure to secure loose items and provide children with only soft toys to play with in a vehicle.