Automobile accidents remain the leading cause of severe injury and death for children. The potential risk of a child dying in a motor vehicle crash is substantially higher if they are not secured in a child restraint seat that is securely fastened in place. In fact, child safety seats can reduce the potential risk of suffering injuries by 82 percent and the decrease the risk of dying by 28 percent compared to just being strapped into the vehicle seatbelt.
According to statistics from CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), 653 children younger than 13 years of age died in motor vehicle accidents in 2015. Of these children, 35 percent were not restrained in a car seat or vehicle seat belt that might have saved their lives.
According to statistics by the NHTSA (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration), more than 121,000 children in the U.S. suffered injuries in vehicle crashes in 2014. The CDC study also reported that approximately 618,000 children under the age of 13 ride in vehicles without using a child car safety seat, booster seat, or the vehicle seat belt.
It is the law that every child must be properly restrained in a child safety seat to prevent injuries in the event of a crash, swerve or sudden stop. When properly fitted, the child safety seat will restrain the strongest parts of the child’s body. A well-fitted seat restraint allows crash forces to spread across a wide area and slow the process of moving the body quickly forward during impact. This reduces stress on the body while protecting the spinal cord and brain.
Illinois Child Safety Seat Laws
The Illinois State Legislature has yet to enact laws that require children of every age to sit in the back seat of a moving vehicle while using a properly fitted restraint system. Instead, the law says that “Any person transporting a child under the age of eight years shall be responsible for that child in an appropriate child restraint system, more commonly called a child safety seat.”
However, the Buckle Up Illinois safety campaign highly recommends securing all children under 13 years of age in the back seat. This recommendation is supported by Safety Belt Safe USA and other passenger safety organizations that believe that every child should ride in the back seat of the vehicle until they are old enough to drive themselves. This is because statistics show that the child will be twice a safe riding in the back seat compared to the front passenger seat.
Even the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that parents keep their children in rear-facing safety seats in the back seat for the first two years or until the child’s weight and height have reached the upper limits of that type of child restraint system. At that point, the child can then be restrained in a forward-facing child safety seat designed for their height and weight.
When the child grows out of the forward-facing child safety seat, these organizations highly recommend that they be restrained in a booster seat until they are about 12 years of age or until they have reached 5’9” in height and weigh at least 80 pounds.
Observing Child Safety Seat Usage in Illinois
During July and August 2015, Illinois Department of Transportation under its Division of Traffic Safety conducted an observational survey to evaluate the level of child safety seat usage in the state. The observations were conducted at various locations including day care centers, shopping malls, restaurants and health care centers.
The surveyors observed more than 3000 children traveling in nearly 2200 passenger cars, vans, and pickup trucks while entering and leaving selected locations. The observers determined that the child safety seat usage rate during the survey was 91.4 percent. However, when the surveyors observed whether the child safety restraints were used properly that percentage dropped to 55.0 percent.
Seat Belt Use in Chicago and Suburbs
The surveyors noted that in Chicago’s collar counties (DuPage, Kane, Lake, McHenry, and Will), the usage rate of child safety seats was slightly higher at 93.4 percent compared to Cook County at 87.2 percent. However, the proper use of child restraints in the collar counties dropped dramatically to 55.0 percent.
When the surveyors observed the proper use of child restraints at specific locations, they noted that the highest percentage (58.7 percent) of children who were properly restrained occurred at health care centers. That percentage dropped dramatically at when observing proper restraints of childcare seat at daycare centers (54.8 percent) and shopping malls (55.3 percent).
Passenger Cars, Pickup Trucks, and Vans
When observing cars, pickup trucks and vans, surveyors noted it was vans that “had the highest percentage of children who were restrained” that 97.0 percent and properly restrained at 60.5 percent. The percentage of restrained children in passenger vehicles was slightly less at 91.02 percent with the number of children properly restrained at 55.1 percent. Pickup trucks had the lowest percentage (82.6 percent) of restrained children and properly restrained children (42.5 percent).
Females tended to restrain and properly restrained the children under their care more than males. During the observation time frame, “92.5 percent of children were restrained and 57.0 percent of children were properly restrained” when the female was operating the vehicle. In contrast, “89.6 percent of children were restrained and only 52.2 percent of children were properly restrained” when males were operating the vehicle.
Safety Belt Restrained Drivers
Surveyors observed the numbers of drivers during the survey who were wearing their safety belt when driving with a child in the vehicle. Their observations noted that “when a driver was wearing their safety belt, 95.6 percent of children were restrained.” However, that number dropped significantly to 62.4 percent when it is observed whether the child was correctly restrained in the child safety seat.
When drivers were observed not wearing their safety belt, surveyors noted that “only 69.6 percent of children were restrained. When excluding incorrect use, only 19.2 percent of these children were properly restrained.”
The observational surveyors noted that the total usage rate of drivers and children wearing seat belts and properly wearing seat belts increased significantly (up 13.4 percent) between 2001 and 2015 from 78.0 percent to 91.4.
The Parameters of the Survey
The surveyors used random sampling to determine which drivers and families would be observed in the 2187 passenger cars and pickup trucks used in the survey. All the information was gathered “between 6:30 AM and 6:00 PM, when the light was adequate for observation.”
The survey determined that the common misuse of restraining the child in the safety seat included:
- Facing the child safety seat the wrong way,
- Not using or not tightening the harness correctly,
- Placing the retainer clip below the child’s armpit,
- Not securing the seat properly in place,
- Positioning the belt across the child face, and
- Placing the child seat belt under their arm
Choosing the Correct Child Safety Seat
Parents are provided numerous options when buying a booster seat, infant seat, or convertible child safety seat. Choosing the right car seat and ensuring it is installed correctly can be challenging. As the child grows, the type of seat they need to remain safe inside the vehicle will change. In addition, not every child car seat will fit every vehicle and some car seat manufacturers construct seats that are easily installed and adaptable over time as the child’s needs change.
There are four unique types of child seats designed for automobiles and trucks. These include:
- Rear Facing Car Seat – Infants one year and younger, weighing 20 pounds or less, should be restrained in a rear-facing car seat. This design uses a harness that will cradle and move with the young infant two reduce force and stress to their fragile spinal cord and neck. Parents can purchase different units with distinct options including a:
- Rear Facing Only Infant Child Seat – This is the ideal child safety seat for small babies and newborns within the first 8 to 12 months. These small, often portable, child seats can only be installed rear facing.
- Convertible Child Seat – As the child grows older, the seat can be adapted from a rear facing unit to a forward-facing unit while still restraining the child using a tether and harness. Because this type of seat is usually designed for growing children, it is usually larger in design allowing the child to remain in a rear facing position after one year.
- All-In-One Child Safety Seat – This type of seat works much like a convertible child seat where it can be used initially as of rear-facing unit, then converted to a forward-facing unit. However, this can also adapt into a booster seat as the child matures.
- Forward Facing Car Seat – Child safety seat manufacturers construct forward facing seats using tethers and harnesses that restrain the child from moving forward and out of the seat during an accident. Another option is to purchase an all-in-one seat that can be used initially as a rear facing seat, then converted to a forward-facing seat, and finally into a booster seat as the child grows much older.
- Booster Seat – This type seat is ideal for a child who is too large for a forward-facing safety seat, but too small to use an adult seatbelt. The booster seat ensures that the child’s torso and lap belt will properly restrained their body’s stronger parts in a crash.
- Seatbelt – When the child grows the large enough to be safely seated in the vehicle seat belt, the lap strap should be fitted properly across the upper thighs while the shoulder strap crosses over the shoulder across the chest and breast bones to ensure they remain safe during a crash. The lap strap should never be crossed over the stomach area and the shoulder strap should never be placed over the neck/face or under the arm.
Keeping a Child Safe from Injury or Death
Statistics prove that properly using a child safety seat can save your child’s life in an accident. Federal and State law requires that every child be properly secured in their restraint seat or booster seat in accordance with their weight and height requirements. Typically, as children grow, they will move out of a rear-facing child safety seat, to a front facing seat before being large enough to sit in a booster seat before finally using a vehicle safety belt, which usually occurs between 8 and 12 years of age.
The steps to take a keep your child safe when traveling in a vehicle begins from the moment the child leaves the hospital. These steps include:
- Read the Instructions – Before you purchase your first rear-facing car seat to bring your infant home from the hospital, it is important to read the manufacturer’s instructions to determine how to use the seat, and after you have properly installed the seat inside the vehicle. It is essential to read the vehicle’s owner’s manual to determine how to use the vehicle’s seat belts to secure the child restraint seat.
- Taking the Baby Home – Before taking the baby home from the hospital, it is important to bring along the new car seat to ensure your newborn is properly restrained during their first ride.
- Fasten Them in Securely – Simply sitting in a child safety seat is not enough to keep them safe. They must be fully secured and restrained by snugly fastening them in their harness.
- Back Seat Only – Every rear facing child safety seat, front facing child safety seat and booster seat is designed to be installed only in the back seat of the vehicle. However, if the vehicle does not have a back seat, the child safety seat must be secured in the front on the passenger side, but ONLY if there is no side air bag and no front air bag, or they have been mechanically turned off when available. If possible, children should always ride the back seat, even if they are large enough to use the vehicle safety belts.
- A Proper Fit – A child safety seat can only be effective if it fits your child’s size and if the unit has been properly installed at the right location inside the vehicle. Before purchasing the seat, make sure it is a proper fit by having your child sit in the seat to ensure they are fully and correctly restrained. If the child car safety seat fits your child, make sure it can be properly installed inside your vehicle and easily secured with a buckle or harness.
- New Seats Are Safest – Purchasing a new car seat is the safest option. This is because many used child car safety seats do not have instructions. There may also be additional structural problems with the seat that has been broken or cracked, rendering it unsafe. If the seat has been in any vehicle accident, it is essential to throw it away because it is nearly impossible to determine if it has been damaged and rendered unsafe.
- Check the Expiration Date – Every child car safety seat has an expiration date that can usually be found on the bottom of the unit or seat. If the seat expiration date has passed, the manufacturer claims that the seat frame is no longer adequately strong enough to ensure your child safety.
- Never Purchase or Use a Recalled Unit – Most recalled child safety seats have been pulled from the marketplace. However, if you receive a child safety seat from a friend as a loaner or a gift, look up the complete recall records to see if your specific unit and model has been recalled. Look online at www.safercar.gov/parents/CarSeats/Car-Seat-Safety.htm
Before you choose the child safety seat to purchase, there are certain requirements that must be met before the seat can be used. These include:
- Model Number and Manufacturing Date – You can find the model number and the manufacturing date under the seats or under the unit to perform a recall check through the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration website under its “Office of Defects Investigation” unit.
- Instruction Manual – Every newly purchased child safety seat will have an instruction manual that should never be thrown away, even after the seat has been properly installed. If you are confused about how to properly install the child safety seat to ensure you done it correctly for your specific vehicle, you can call (877) 366-8154 to schedule a time to speak with a Child Passenger Safety Technician or to look up instructions at SeatCheck.org.
- Missing or Cracked Parts – Like anything else you can purchase, your child safety seat could have been damaged during the manufacturing process, while it was being shipped, or when stocked onto the shelf. Additionally, it is easy for parts of the child safety seat to become loose in the unopened box. Be sure that every part is in good working order. If there are cracks, breaks or missing pieces, take the unit back to where it was purchased for a safe one.
- Warranties – The length of time the warranty is valid varies greatly between child safety seat manufacturers. While the car seat maker will likely guarantee the product immediately after purchase once it is taken out of the box, it may only be warrantied for a brief time, which might cost you significantly more to use if the product becomes damaged before your child has outgrown it.
- Pre-owned and Pre-used – While recycling products is a wonderful way to save the planet, avoid using pre-known and pre-used child car safety seats unless you have a comprehensive understanding of all its previous life. If the unit has been involved in a crash or has become damaged from being dropped, do not use it. This is because the seat might not work correctly when a crash occurs, which could cause your child to suffer a severe injury or die.
- Proper Fit – No matter the age or weight of your child, if the unit does not fit them properly based on their weight and age requirements, select a better fitting seat. There are many available brands. You can determine the best child safety seat by placing them in the unit, manipulating the locks and straps and understanding the safety requirements before you buy the right unit.
Certainly, one of the most important jobs every parent will have is always keeping their child safe everywhere, including inside the family’s vehicles. Using seat belts and child safety seats properly can ensure the child is restrained adequately to reduce their chances of being severely harmed or killed in an automobile crash.
Keeping Your Child Safe
Selecting the best car seat is essential to their safety if it can be properly installed. This requires buying the correct safety seat and following usage instructions. If no instructions are available, help is available online or by telephone.
Child car seat manufacturers recommend that children wear thin layers of clothing when restrained inside the vehicle. This is because bulky clothing like heavy snow suits and winter coats can easily compress during an automobile crash that could cause your child to be thrown from the seat because the straps are too loose to fully restrain their body. To keep the child in thin clothing warm, wrap a blanket or coat around their body over their restraint system to keep them warm of being fully protected in the event of an accident.
It is important to remember that airbags can cause significant problems if a child is riding in the front seat when an accident occurs. This is because airbags are designed to provide a heightened level of protection for adults and teenagers. The angle of the inflated airbag in relation to the position of small child’s head and chest could be fatal during a crash. Some vehicles allow the airbag to be turned off to accommodate a child passenger. However, statistics show the child is much safer riding in the back seat using a child safety seat or booster seat, based on their weight and height, compared to riding the front seat.
Do the best you can for your child by being a good role model by always wearing your seat belt. If you allow your child to be transported by others, make sure they are using their own car seat on every trip every time. Before your child leaves with someone else in a different vehicle, double check to ensure their child car safety seat is fully secured in place before strapping them in.