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The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that motor vehicle injuries are the leading cause of death among children in the U.S. In 2009, a total of 1,314 children aged 14 and younger died as occupants in car crashes, while about 179,000 were injured.

Over the last decade, advances in safety studies have led to the design of new child safety seats meant to protect children in car crashes. Yet a CDC study found that, in one year, more than 618,000 children aged 0-12 rode in vehicles without the use of these seats at least some of the time.

Granted, getting children strapped in and out of car seats can be time consuming and sometimes frustrating. Here are three reasons why it’s important—and why crashes are so dangerous for small children.

1. Car Seats Distribute Crash Energy

Children, because of their smaller size, are often at an increased risk for deadly injuries in car crashes. Child safety seats reduce the risk of death by 71 percent for infants, and by 54 percent for toddlers ages 1-4. One of the main reasons for this is because child safety seats help spread the force of a collision out over the child’s entire body.

When a child is restrained only by a seat belt (or worse, no restraint at all), a collision can force the head into a windshield or dashboard, or into the back of the front seat. The brain could be compressed toward the front of the skull, while other organs smash into bone. A car seat, on the other hand, cradles the child’s back, head and neck, spreading out the force. Instead of the child snapping his neck, for instance, the whole body and seat take on the force more evenly, resulting in less damage.

2. Car Seats In the Back Seat Keep Kids Safe from Airbags

Air bags help save adult lives, but they can be dangerous for children. A study published in 2000 found that though airbags reduce fatality in car crashes for children aged 9-12, overall, children 0-12 belted in the front seat with an airbag are 31 percent more likely to be killed in a crash than if they are restrained but there is no air bag present.

Once activated, an airbag deploys quickly, and for children sitting too close, the impact can be like a powerful punch. Babies in rear facing car seats have been killed when airbags hit the back of their heads. Children should always be placed in the back seat for this reason. If you must travel with the child in the front seat, make sure the passenger air bag is turned off.

3. Booster Seats Prevent Serious Injuries to Toddlers

When kids outgrow the car seat, it can be tempting to just put them on the regular seat with a seatbelt. This may be a mistake, however. Seatbelts are designed to sit across the pelvis and ribcage, to spread the force of the impact over the strongest parts of the skeleton. Because of their smaller size, however, children put in a regular seat only will line up differently with the placement of the belt, to the point where an impact would actually be more likely to damage internal organs.

A booster seat raises a child up so that the adult seatbelt fits as it should across the strongest parts of the skeleton.

Review of Basic Guidelines

As a review, here are the standard guidelines as provided by the CDC for child transportation safety:

  • Birth through age 2—use a rear-facing child safety seat.
  •  2-4/until 40 pounds—use a forward-facing child safety seat.
  • 4-8/until 4’9” tall—use a booster seat. Keep children in the back seat for the best protection.
  • After 8/4’9” tall—use a regular seat belt. Keep children in the back seat whenever possible until they turn 13 years old.

Headline Image Source: Mark Stevens on flickr

One Comment

  1. Gravatar for Adam Kielich

    I know some parents dislike the idea of using safety seats for their children to such a late age but being unhappy about having to secure their child in a vehicle is a lot better than being unhappy that their child is dead.

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