Parents Still Aren't Getting Car Seats Right

It seems like car-seat talk is everywhere.

Starting before the child is even born, hospital educators often include child-safety-seat curriculum in required new-parent classes. In the news and online, parents hear regularly about changes to child-seat regulations. It's also often a topic of conversation at moms groups and play dates. However, the message might not be getting through, according to a new study published in the American Journal of Preventative Medicine. As children age, the study found a decline in car seat use and an increase in children being unrestrained in cars.

The study used trained National Highway Traffic Safety Administration data collectors to watch as families arrived at places such as gas stations, fast-food restaurants, rec centers and child care facilities. Data collectors noted many factors having to do with the child restraints used and the location of the children within the car. This data was combined with NHTSA's previously released National Survey on the Use of Booster Seats.

Of the 21,476 children observed in the study, it was found that few met the new child-passenger safety guidelines issued by the American Academy of Pediatrics in 2011.

The safety guidelines are:

Rear-Facing Seat: It's recommend that infants stay in rear-facing car seats until at least age 2. The study found that "very few children remain rear-facing after the age of 1."

Forward-Facing Seat: The guidelines state that children remain in forward-facing child-safety seats with a five-point harness until reaching the maximum weight and height limits suggested by the child-seat manufacturer.

Booster Seats: A child should remain in a booster seat until the vehicle's seat belt, which is sized for an adult, fits properly as determined by a five-step test, according to the safety guidelines. This is typically when a child is 57 inches tall — the average height of an 11-year-old — but can vary based on a child's proportions and growth pattern. The study found that fewer that 2% of children are using a booster seat after age 7.

Front Seat: It's recommended that children stay in the backseat until age 13. The study found that "many" children older than 5 were seated in the front seat. "Car crashes are the leading cause of death for children over the age of 3, and send more than 140,000 children to the emergency room each year," according to the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Sure, child-safety seats can be a pain sometimes. They're hard to get in and out of cars, and it can be difficult to keep willful kids on board with riding in them for long periods of time. However, if for no other reason than your child's life, set the expectation from day one that your child has to be in the appropriate seat for his/her age. My oldest daughter just recently grew tall enough to ride in the car without a booster seat, and she's going into seventh grade. Sure, she hated her friends knowing she still sat in a booster seat, but I'd rather her be slightly disgruntled and in a booster seat than the dangerous alternatives.

Car Seat Basics Part One: Get Your Seat Checked
Car Seat Basics Part Two: From Infant to Convertible Seat
Car Seat Basics Part Three: Beyond the Booster

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