Maryland’s child passenger safety laws require children younger than eight years old to ride in an appropriate child restraint, unless the child is 4 feet 9 inches or taller. Every child from eight to 16 years old who is not secured in a child restraint must be secured using the vehicle’s seat belt.
Child safety seats reduce the risk of death in passenger cars by 71 percent for infants and by 54 percent for toddlers ages one to four years, according to the CDC.
As the EMS administrative specialist at Meritus Medical Center and a certified child passenger safety technician, Kelly Llewellyn, RN, knows the importance of properly securing all children in appropriate child safety seats, booster seats or seat belts. Once a month, Kelly and other certified technicians offer free safety seat checks to Washington County residents. She often sees parents and caregivers make these common mistakes:
- Installing a car seat using both the seat belt and the car’s LATCH (Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children) system. Car seats are tested using one securing method, not both.
- Allowing too much play or movement in the car seat position. “The car seat shouldn’t move more than one inch from where the belt passes,” says Kelly.
- Switching a child from a rear-facing to forward-facing car seat too soon. From birth to two years, children must face the rear of the car. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, a rear-facing seat is the best way to keep your child safe.
- Placing dangling toys from car seat handles. It’s unknown the impact these objects may have in a motor vehicle accident. You should not attach anything to a car seat that doesn’t come with the seat. Toys can become projectiles during an accident and cause harm to a child during a crash.
- Transitioning children to booster seats too soon. Booster seats position a child so that the adult safety belt fits correctly on their bodies. Most kids can switch from a car seat to booster seat when they top the highest weight—typically 40 to 80 pounds.
- Considering age, not height when graduating a child from a booster seat. Most kids can safely use an adult seat belt between ages eight and 12, but Maryland law states that children must be at least 4 feet 9 inches before moving out of a booster. In addition, ask the following five questions:
- Does the child sit all the way back against the auto seat?
- Do the child’s knees bend at the end of the seat?
- Does the belt cross mid-shoulder?
- Is the lap belt low, touching the thighs?
- Can the child stay seated like this for the whole trip?
- Dressing children in heavy winter outerwear and loosening the shoulder straps to accommodate the bulk. “Parents don’t realize that they’ve loosen the straps too much and their child is no longer secure,” says Kelly. She recommends using a blanket to cover the child once the child is fastened in the car seat.
- Using car seat hand-me-downs. Not only can the padding and plastic deteriorate over time, but car seats are not crash tested past six years according to Kelly.
- Allowing a child younger than 13 to sit in the front seat. “The safety of your child should never be negotiated,” says Kelly.
Meritus Health offers free car safety seat checks every second Wednesday of the month by appointment only. Trained safety seat technicians check for proper installation and fit for all vehicular child restraint systems.
“We want parents and caregivers to feel confident about how to install a car seat,” says Kelly. She encourages participants to bring both the car’s manual and the car seat manufacturer’s manual to their appointment. For a two-car family, Kelly recommends bringing in both vehicles. “An SUV’s backseat is much larger than a compact car’s backseat so it’s important to understand how a car seat fits in either vehicle.”
Call 301-790-8366 to schedule a seat safety check. Kelly also suggests checking out http://www.safercar.gov/parents/RightSeat.htm for more car seat safety tips.
By: Anne Gill
Sources: National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and Mayo Clinic, Maryland State Highway Administration.