Video: Child Passenger Safety Tips for Your Precious Cargo

CARS.COM — Heart disease. Cancer. Chronic lower respiratory disease. These are the leading causes of death for the average American. But for some our most vulnerable citizens — children age 1 to 13 — it’s car crashes.

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Child Passenger Safety Week in September is as good an excuse as any to remind ourselves of the dangers kids face in and around cars — and with annual traffic fatalities projected to hit a decade high, it’s an even better one. In 2015, 663 children 12 or younger died in car crashes. While that was less than half that of 40 years earlier, it was the highest since 2009 following four consecutive years of decreases.

Meanwhile, studies show that some 600,000 infants to 12-year-olds rode in vehicles without a car seat, booster seat or seat belt. Among those who died in collisions, 35 percent were not properly secured.

What’s more, among those who were in a car seat or booster seat, nearly half the devices were used incorrectly, diminishing their effectiveness. Proper child restraint use reduces the risk of serious or fatal injuries by 45 to 71 percent.

So what’s proper?

Using a correctly installed restraint appropriate to the child passenger’s age, height and weight. But even when they’re ready for a seat belt, that doesn’t mean they’re ready for the front seat. The force of an airbag deployment in a crash can kill a child, so they should remain buckled up in the backseat, ideally in the middle position, until at least age 13.

Another issue that remains important even as summer gives way to fall and beyond: vehicular heatstroke, which spiked last year with nearly 40 deaths of children in hot cars. Keep in mind that in-car temperatures can rise from 80 to 110 degrees in just 20 minutes, and that children’s body temperature can rise as much as five times faster than an adult’s on its way to a deadly 104-107 degrees.

The vast majority of related tragedies occur when a parent or caregiver forgets a sleeping or quiet child is in the backseat and leaves them behind. Leaving a reminder in the backseat so you don’t forget they’re back there — like your smartphone or purse — can help. Some automakers have begun offering automated rear-seat reminders that sound chimes and even honk the horn if a child is left in the backseat. And if you see a child alone in a car, call 911.

Afraid of causing a scene or getting someone in trouble? With a child’s life at stake, I’m pretty sure that’s why they coined the phrase, “Sorry, not sorry.”

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Former Assistant Managing Editor-News Matt Schmitz is a veteran Chicago journalist indulging his curiosity for all things auto while helping to inform car shoppers. Email Matt Schmitz

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