John R. Yannaccone, P.E., Senior Mechanical Engineer
September 15th to 21st is Child Passenger Safety Week, a time to make sure children are traveling safely. Every year, motor vehicle crashes rank high on the list of leading causes of injury and fatality for children in most age groups. Here are some points to consider:
- Children over 4’9” are likely riding in a seatbelt. It is important to make sure the seatbelt fits them properly, as they are generally designed for adults. While there is no single criteria indicating when a child is large enough for a seatbelt without a booster or child’s car seat, there are steps you can take to determine when a child can rely solely on the seatbelt. (Is Your Child Big Enough to Ride in a Seatbelt)
- If the child is smaller than 4’9”, they should be riding in a car seat. There are two important checks that should be made for safety. First, check the expiration date to confirm the child car seat is not past its allowed lifetime, which is typically 6 years. Second, verify the car seat has no open recalls. To do this you will need the car seat manufacturer, model number and date of manufacture. Checking for recalls can be done on either the manufacturer’s website or on the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s (NHTSA) website.
- Verify the car seat is appropriate for the child’s age, weight and height, and is installed facing in the proper direction. As the child grows, they may outgrow their first car seat, but still not be ready to ride facing forward. In this case, you should replace the car seat with one that supports the heavier weight but remains facing rear-ward. The current American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) policy is to keep children rear-facing as long as possible. (Latest Recommendation for Children in Child Seats) The limits for your car seat can be found on the labels on the car seat or in the manual.
- Choosing the proper place in your vehicle to install the car seat is just as important as having the correct size and position. Not all vehicle seats can have a car seat installed because of seat design, seat placement, or both. For example, the rear facing car seats should not be installed in the front seat of the vehicle unless the airbag has been turned off. If a crash occurs, a deploying airbag can badly injure a child. Seat design is also an issue for vehicles that have side-facing jump seats or rear facing seats, both of which were not created to install a child in a car seat.
- Car seat installation is done through use of LATCH (Lower Anchor and Tether for Children) or the vehicle’s seatbelt. Not all seating positions in your vehicle are equipped with LATCH, so it is important to utilize the section of your vehicle’s owner’s manual on installing car seats to learn which seating positions have LATCH. If you are installing a car seat facing forward, and the child is within the allowed weight to use the upper tether strap, it should always be used to reduce the motion of the seat and increase the protection provided by the car seat. Review the manuals for both the car seat and the vehicle for information on the specifics of installation. (Car Seats and LATCH)
- After following the installation steps, the tightness of the installation should be checked by grasping the car seat near where the seatbelt or LATCH strap passes through and trying to move the car seat. You should not be able to move the car seat side-to-side or front-to-back more than 1 inch. If you installed a rear facing car seat, you should also verify the car seat is at the proper recline angle, this could be shown with a recline indicator on the car seat or base, or indicated by a line on the side of the car seat (check your car seat owner’s manual for specifics for your car seat).
- Ensure you are properly harnessing the child into the car seat. To do so, place the child in the car seat so they are positioned all the way back in the seat, with their back against the back of the car seat. Check where the shoulder straps are relative to the child’s shoulders. If the car seat is rear-facing, the shoulder straps should come out of the car seat even with, or slightly below the child’s shoulders. If the car seat is forward facing, the shoulder straps should come out of the car seat even with, or slightly above the child’s shoulders. With the shoulder straps at the proper height, put the harness on the child, buckle the straps and tighten the harness. To check if the harness is properly tightened, perform the “pinch test” to check for any slack.
- Finally, keep in mind as the weather gets cooler: bulky clothing or jackets should not be worn by children in car seats, as they can prevent the harness from fitting properly. It is better for the child to wear a light jacket and to place a blanket or heavier jacket over the child AFTER they are securely harnessed in the car seat. (Child Seat Cold Weather Safety)
Taking the time to make sure your car seat is appropriate for the child, properly installed, and the child is properly harnessed in the car helps to protect your child in a crash. If you cannot get your car seat installed properly or are just unsure if you have done it correctly, help is available. There are certified technicians in most areas that will inspect your car seat and work with you to ensure proper use. In many cases, this service is provided free of charge. To locate a certified technician near you, use the CPS Technician search tool.
John R. Yannaccone, P.E., Senior Mechanical Engineer with DJS Associates, Inc., can be reached via email at experts@forensicDJS.com or via phone at 215-659-2010.