Child Passenger Safety Week in Virginia – is Your Child at Risk?
Unintentional injuries including car crashes are the leading cause of deaths of children aged 1 to 13 years old in the United States. Many deaths and serious injuries are preventable by the correct use of child car seats, boosters, and seat belts. It’s a message being publicized during Child Passenger Safety Week that runs from Sept. 23-29.
In 2016, 723 children aged under 13 were killed in motor vehicle crashes on the highways of America, according to the National Safety Council’s Injury Facts. That equates to about two children every day on our roads.
Deaths and injuries to children in car, truck and SUV crashes are always heartbreaking. In some cases, the proper fitting or use of a child safety seat is the difference between life and death or serious injuries and minor cuts. As many as 40 percent of children who are killed in car crashes in the United States are unrestrained. Of those who are in infant car seats or boosters, many are not as safe as their parents believe due to improper fitting. As a father, I am concerned by these figures.
How Many Children are At Risk from Improperly Fitted Car Seats?
A 2016 report by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration found up to 59 percent of children’s car seats are improperly used. Miriam Manary, a senior engineering research associate at the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute, told the New York Times some studies point to higher levels of misuse.
While some errors are minor, Manary said about 35 percent amounted to gross misuse so serious that the children were receiving no protection at all from their safety systems. The research suggests Child Passenger Safety Week has a long way to go in its mission to educate.
Many parents are confused about the child restraint laws. Although they vary from state to state, there is a degree of consistency across the country. Here are some questions and answers about infant seat safety and booster seat laws in Virginia.
How Long Should My Child be in a Rear-Facing Seat in Virginia?
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends all children ride in rear-facing in the back seat or a car, SUV or truck until they are 2-years-old or as long as the safety seat manufacturer permits.
According to AAA, rear-facing seats provide more support for the child’s head, neck, and spine. They are designed to distribute the crash forces across the car seat. AAA says children aged 2 are five times less likely to die or be seriously injured in a rear-facing seat.
Which Seat Should a Rear-Facing Child Seat be Placed on?
Under Virginia law, a rear-facing child seat must be placed on the back seat of a car. The activation of an airbag in a crash can kill an infant. If a vehicle lacks a back seat, a child restraint device may only be put on a front seat if a vehicle lacks a passenger side airbag or the airbag is deactivated.
When Can a Child be Placed in a Forward-Facing Car Seat in Virginia?
Most research suggests rear-facing infant car seats provide greater protection than forward facing seats. AAA advises parents to wait as long as possible to graduate. Turning a child under age 2 into a forward-facing position leads to neck, head or spinal cord injuries during an accident or even a sudden stop.
Parents should not use forward-facing car seats until the child weighs at least 20 pounds. The child should have reached the maximum weight recommended by the manufacturer to fit into his or her rear-facing safety seat. Parents should use the forward-facing child restraints until the child reaches the maximum weight or height specified in manufacturer’s instructions.
When Should a Booster Seat be Used?
Research suggests an alarming number of parents are skipping the use of a booster seat. A 2013 study among 4-7-year-old children found only 46 percent were using booster seats. Almost a quarter of children this age were using adult seats.
Children who have outgrown child safety seats, but are too small to safely ride with adult seat belts, should be properly restrained in booster seats until an adult belt fits properly. Children should use a booster seat when they have exceeded the weight and height limits specified for a forward-facing car seat.
Why Should Children Not Use Adult Seatbelts?
When a child is too small to use an adult seatbelt, the belt can cause injuries to their vital organs during an accident. The NHTSA found in its survey injuries to the abdomen, neck, spine, or back in children who were using adult seatbelts when they were too small to use them.
The lap belt must be fitted snugly across the upper thighs, not the stomach. The shoulder belt should lie snug across the child’s shoulder and chest and not cross the neck or face.
At What Age Can Children Use Adult Safety Belts in Virginia?
A child should remain in a booster seat until he or she reaches 8 years of age and is at least 4 feet 9 inches tall. NHTSA says smaller children should remain in booster seats until the age of 12. The child should be able to keep his or her back against the back of the vehicle, have his or her feet flat on the car’s floor and keep their knees bent completely over the seat’s edge.
What Standards Should Child Car Seats Comply With in Virginia?
Under a new law to be enacted on July 1, 2019, drivers of vehicles manufactured after January 1, 1968, must ensure children up to 8-years-old are transported in seats or boosters that meet the standards adopted by the United States Department of Transportation.
How Long Should a Child Safety Seat Be Used?
The life of a car seat is from six to eight years. Using an older seat may compromise your child’s safety. You should also be aware of defective seats. The NHTSA lists child seat recalls on its website.
What Are the Most Common Mistakes Virginia Parents Make Installing Child Seats?
Many parents install child car seats incorrectly. The biggest offenders are the parents of newborns. A study by Safe Kids found 64 percent of parents aren’t using the top tether that prevents a car seat from pitching forward. This is a potentially life-threatening mistake.
The failure to use the top tether may lead to serious head injuries. The seat’s manual instructs you where to find the top tether. Your car’s manual will tell you where to attach it.
How to Protect Your Child in a Car
Child Passenger Safety Week features numerous events and informational resources in Virginia and elsewhere. You can view infographics and tips on the Department of Transportation website.
However, help is available every week of the year. The NHTSA and Safe Kids provide lists of local car seat checkups. Experts will look for critical mistakes that could get your child seriously injured or killed if not rectified such as straps that are too loose or in the wrong place. You can also take your car seat to your local fire station for help. The Virginia Department of Health advises pregnant mothers to set up an appointment with a child safety expert a month or two before the due date.
If your child has been injured due to the fault of another driver or a defective seat you should talk to a Virginia children’s injury lawyer. Call Cooper Hurley Injury Lawyers at (757) 455-0077.