We never think it will happen to us. We watch the news, we surf the web and we see that bad things can happen to good people. Natural disasters, random acts of violence, accidents … our 24-hour media cycle means we have a front row seat to the suffering of others, and yet we seem to believe that we are immune.
I see it every day on Portland roads and highways — parents driving with children unrestrained, believing that a crash will never happen to them. Unfortunately, as a pediatrician, I also see the tragic consequences that result from this behavior all too often.
We are not magically protected, and therefore cannot ignore car safety seats and seat belts. Every day in the United States about four children younger than 16 die as passengers in motor vehicle crashes. Yesterday, today, tomorrow … four kids every single day.
Are we willing to pay that price? No. It is not OK that four kids will lose their lives by day’s end because they were unrestrained; lives filled with love, passion, humor and endless potential. Just as it would not be OK if it were an epidemic that claimed those lives every day. We should do everything in our power to ensure our kids are protected.
Results of a recent survey from General Motors and Safe Kids Worldwide shows that many Americans put their children in harm’s way, whether they realize or not. The survey of more than 1,000 parents showed that more than 1 in 4 parents thinks it is OK to drive with their children completely unrestrained in the car, even if it is just a short trip.
If you think that is bad, consider the fact that about 60 percent of all crashes involving children occur within 10 minutes of a family’s home — just the kind of “short trip” in which kids are not restrained.
How many such trips are taken every day? How many kids are unrestrained? And how many lives are shattered by injury and death? The sad fact is that almost all of them could be either prevented or decreased in severity through proper use of car safety seats and seat belts.
What can you do to best protect those most dear to you?
- Use the correct car safety seat for your child. Each seat has weight and height limits it. Do you have the right seat for your child?
- Follow the directions of the manufacturer and make sure the harness straps are used correctly, and the seat is correctly installed in the car using either LATCH anchors or the vehicle seat belt.
- Keep your child rear-facing as long as your car safety seat will allow. Children aged 1 and 2 are 500 percent less likely to be injured if they are facing toward the rear. Pay attention to the weight and height limits as determined by the seat manufacturer.
- Once you turn the child forward-facing, use a car safety seat with an internal harness until your child outgrows the weight and height limits
- Once your child outgrows the forward-facing seat, use a booster seat until the vehicle seat belt fits correctly (usually around ages 9 to 12 years … yes, most kids do not fit in vehicle seat belts until they reach 4’ 9”, which is ages 9 to 12 for most kids). More booster safety tips are available here.
- Keep kids in the back seat until they are at least 13. Kids 12 and younger have at least a 40 percent increased risk of injury in a crash.
- Be sure that every passenger in the vehicle is restrained — driver, passengers and each child on each and every ride. Highway, neighborhood side streets … every single ride.
I challenge parents and caregivers to ask themselves the following questions:
- Do I let my kids ride unrestrained if I’m just going down the street to the grocery store?
- Is my child in the right seat for his/her age, weight? Is he/she in the front?
- Do I need help answering these questions?
The Tom Sargent Children’s Safety Center at OHSU Doernbecher Children’s Hospital has five National Highway Traffic Safety Administration-certified car seat technicians to help ensure you are doing the best you possibly can.
Ben Hoffman, M.D.
Medical Director, Tom Sargent Children’s Safety Center
Professor of Pediatrics
OHSU Doernbecher Children’s Hospital