Keep your kids safe is not ALL about car seats!
Every parent – myself incuded – will tell you that one of their biggest fears is their child being hit by a car, whether while they are riding in one or are walking nearby.
And it’s a valid concern. A recent accident in Toronto brought that fear into the forefront: The five-old child was killed when she was pinned to her parent’s car by a vehicle at the school pick up area. In an odd twist, the car didn’t have a driver behind the wheel, so how the gear engaged is a matter for investigators. However it happened, it’s safe to say that we all hugged our kids a little tighter that night.
Vehicle safety isn’t a matter of wishful thinking though. You can ensure that your children are safer when in or around cars in several important ways, which I’ll outline in this two part series:
Make Sure The Seat Fits
First and foremost, make sure your child is using the right car seat for their age and stage. There are four of them:
What age / height / weight combination dictates which seat to be used does vary by province / territory. In Ontario, these are the basics:
Stage 1 – use a rear-facing seat until the child weighs at least 20 pounds. The longer you can keep them rear-facing, the better as it is the safest position for a baby. When shopping for a seat, look for one that can handle a fairly high height/weight ratio. Some go as high as 45 pounds. Don’t be in a rush to have them face forward, even at 20 pounds.
Stage 2 – Kids that weigh 20 to 40 pounds need to use a front-facing car seat or a rear-facing seat that can accommodate that weight. Be mindful of height too, however. Tall children will be uncomfortable in a rear facing seat, when their legs are extending past the edge of the seat. It could also present some danger in an accident situation.
Stage 3 – Booster seats are required for kids that weight 40 to 80 pounds, are less than 4 feet 9 inches tall AND who are under the age of 8. Basically, a booster seat ensures that the seat belt is sitting where it should be for optimal safety in a crash.
Stage 4 – Seat belts can be used alone when the child has reached the age of 8 OR they weigh 80 pounds OR are taller than 4ft9. But some 8 year olds are smaller, so what you need to pay attention to is how the belt sits on them without the booster. It should be flat across the shoulder and chest, with the lap belt crossing the hips and not the stomach. If that’s not the case, best keep them in a booster a little longer.
TIP: Buying a used car seat is always a bit of a risk, unless you know the sellers well. You don’t want a seat that has been in an accident, and you need to make sure that it is current enough to meet Consumer Product Safety standards.
Be Wary Of Aftermarket Extras For Car Seats
Transport Canada shared some cautionary tips on their site regarding aftermarket products related to car seats that are worth noting:
- Harness strap covers—in an attempt to make the harness straps more comfortable, some parents add covers. They are typically velcroed on to the harness straps, near the child’s face. The issue is that they can push the chest clip out of position. The ideal placement for a chest clip on a harness is at armpit level. In the case of a collision, the chest clip is what holds the harnesses in their proper positioning, to ensure that the child isn’t ejected from the seat. If not properly placed, the risk to your child is greater.
- Trays—for older kids, there are trays that can be added to seats, to allow for snacking or colouring and so on. In the event of a collision however, the body does pitch forward and the hard tray surface could cause a head injury.
- Head support and padding cushions—unless these come with the car seat and are fully integrated without affecting the harness, this kind of additional padding is often attached by re-routing the harness, or introduces slack in the harness system. Car seats only allow for so much compression of the foam materials used in their making, to ensure that the harness remains tight. Addition of other materials could affect that, making the harness less effective in a crash situation.
Car Travel Rules To Live By
No snow suits—
Warm up the car before you leave or drape blankets over your little one once they are in the seat and wearing the harness. Snowsuits and thick coats UNDER the harness can create the same compression issue mentioned above.
No kids up front—
Technically, the law doesn’t specify that children under the age of 12 should only be riding in the back; it’s more of a recommendation. I’d take that one step further and say kids should ride in the back after 12 and for as long as you can get away with it! They are safer there, particularly if they aren’t particularly tall, given the force of an airbag deployment, which clocks in at 300 km/h.
If you have to have a child up front for any reason, make sure that you put the seat back as far as you can away from the dashboard—not the seat back, mind you, but the entire seat.
Air bags aside, there is also the issue of driver distraction. If your wiggly kid is up front, dropping things and generally fiddling with all the knobs, you’re going to be more distracted than if they stay in the back.
Speaking of distractions, make sure that your older kids know the car trip rules: no throwing things, no screaming, no asking you to pick up the crayon, and so on. A screaming child can be just as distracting as a cell phone so if needs must, pull over safely and deal with whatever is going on rather than trying to power through the melt down: you’ll both be better off.
In the second part of this series, I’ll go over tips and information for child safety around cars. Stay tuned and keep your kids safe…