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Proper use of car seats saves children's lives

By LCpl. Melissa Orrell | | December 22, 2000

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Despite the existence of laws in all 50 states requiring the use of car safety seats or child restraint devices for young children, some parents continue to put their children's lives at risk while riding in motor vehicles.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), in 1999, 1,135 children younger than four years old died while riding in motor vehicles and another 182,000 were injured.

Many of these deaths could have been prevented by the proper use of child safety seats. According to the NHTSA, since 1975 4,000 infant's lives have been saved through the proper use of child safety seats.
To prevent further unnecessary deaths the American Pediatrics Association suggests for Infants:

* Children should sit facing the rear of the vehicle until they are at least 20 pounds and one year old. Infants who weigh 20 pounds before their first birthday should ride rear facing in a convertible seat or infant seat approved for higher weights until they are one year old.

* A rear facing car seat must not be placed in the front passenger side of a vehicle with an air bag.

* Premature and small infants should not be placed in car seats with shields, abdominal pads, or arm rests that could directly contact an infants face and neck during an impact.

* In rear facing car safety seats for infants; shoulder straps must be in the lowest slots until the infant's shoulders are above the slots. The harness must be snug and the car safety seat's retainer clip should be positioned at the midpoint of the infants chest, not in the abdomen or neck area.

* If the vehicle seat slopes so that the infant's head flops forward, the care safety seat should be reclined halfway back, at a 45-degree angle. Until engineering modifications can be implemented to prevent this problem, a firm roll of cloth, newspaper or pool noodles can be placed under the car seat below the infant's feet to achieve the correct angle.
For toddlers:

* A convertible car seat should be used as long as the child's ears are below the top of the back of the seat and the shoulders are below the highest seat strap slots. The seat should be positioned reclined and rear facing for a child until the child is one-year old and 20 pounds and semi upright and forward facing for a child older than one-year old who weighs 20 to 40 pounds.

For Children:

* A booster seat should be used when the child has outgrown a convertible car seat but is too small to fit properly in a vehicle safety belt.

* There are two types of booster seats. A belt positioning booster seat and a booster seat with a small shield. The belt positioning seat that uses a combination lap/shoulder belt is preferable because the shoulder strap stops the child from moving too far forward during a crash. The booster seat with a small shield should be used when only a lap belt is available.

General Information

* Parents should read the manufacture's instructions carefully and test the car safety seat for a safe, snug fit in the vehicle to avoid potentially life-threatening incompatibility problems between the design of the car safety seat, vehicle seat and seat belt system.

* Only buy child safety seats that meet Department of Transportation (DOT) requirements. Look for a label that says "This child restraint system conforms to all applicable federal motor safety standards." The stamp of manufacturing should read after January 1st, 1981.

* Don't buy a used child safety seat if the instructions or DOT label are missing.

* The rear vehicle seat is the safest pace for any age child to ride.
The NHTSA stresses the importance of parents to register every car seat, new or used. This will enable the manufacturer to contact the owner in case of a recall. An owner can register the car safety seat, ask questions or request more information through the NHTSA by calling the U. S. Department of Transportation's toll free auto safety hotline at 1-800-424-9393.

The NHTSA has Child Safety Inspection Stations in Savannah, Ga. and in Barnswell, Summerville and Walterboro, S.C. For more information on a safety check point visit www.nhtsa.dot.gov.
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