It’s fall already! And the cool weather is rapidly approaching. This brings with it some new safety guidelines, especially when it comes to car safety (chec Just Car Checks for safety guidelines and regular checks). Car accidents are more common in the winter due to ice and snow, at least in the northern part of the country (where I am). It’s important to be safe!
Car Seat Safety
I am a huge car seat safety advocate. It is very important to me to keep my children as safe as I can while we are traveling in the car. There is no downside to keeping them in safe car seats; but if something were to happen, they could be in trouble and there are no do-overs.
The current safety guidelines are:
- Children should be in an appropriate rear-facing seat until they are at least two years old and 30 lbs. (but preferably to the limits of the seat; many now go to 45 lbs.)
- Children should be in a five-point harness in a forward-facing position until at least four years old and 40 lbs. (but again, preferably to the limits of the seat; age 5 – 6 years and 50 – 65 lbs. is better)
- Children should remain in a booster until they are at least 8 – 12 years old, 4’9″ tall, and 80 lbs.
These are the current guidelines according to all the major safety organizations. The minimum laws are 1 year and 20 lbs. for rear-facing, 4 years and 40 lbs. before moving to a booster.
Car seat safety is not about what is “cool.” I have heard too many parents say, “But they’ll be made fun of!” First of all — no, they won’t, because these guidelines are for all children. Everyone will (should) be doing it so it will be normal. Second, I am not concerned with what someone else’s 5-year-old thinks of my car seat situation. I’m concerned with choosing what I believe to be safest for my children.
Others say, “Well, we turned out okay.” That’s called survivor bias. You turned out okay. But current safety data and statistics show kids are a lot safer in cars today if they follow these guidelines. Many people from our generation didn’t make it. They aren’t here to tell their stories. Anecdotal evidence like “we turned out fine” does not matter anyway — as I said, statistics show these guidelines keep kids safer.
Still others say, “It’s totally fine to turn my child around when she can sit up” or “He likes being forward facing better.” This is not about what you feel like doing. This is about keeping your child safe. If you are in the U.S., it is not even legal to turn around a child at 4 months or 6 months. It is not legal to turn a child under 1 year AND 20 lbs. for any reason. And no, it doesn’t matter if your doctor gives you the go-ahead: that just means the doctor is not aware of current safety guidelines.
Please, keep your children safe in the car by selecting an appropriate car seat and using it according to the safety guidelines above.
Image by flowers.justin
Installing a Car Seat
If you are unsure how to properly install or use a carseat, please see a safety technician. Over 90% of parents do not use their car seats correctly!
Common mistakes include:
- Straps too loose (if you can slip more than one finger beneath them, they are too loose)
- Chest clip too low (if it’s down by the baby’s belly, it can kill them in a crash by pressing their internal organs. It should be even with their armpits)
- Car seat not tightly installed (it should not move more than 1″ from side to side at the base)
- Adding things to the carseat that are “after market” (car seat covers that go under the straps, strap pads, etc.) These void your warranty in a crash and may make the seat unsafe
Please see a technician if you are uncertain if your baby is safe in the car! Even if you use a car seat, not using it properly increases the chances of your child getting hurt in an accident.
Special Winter Issues
Many parents put their child in a carseat with a winter coat on. This is a huge mistake! A thick winter jacket will compress in an accident, leaving the straps too loose. Baby could fly out of the car seat. This is especially true if the chest clip is too low. This can and has killed children.
Keep the puffy coats out of car seats. Bring it along in the car to put on after you unstrap the child (if it’s that cold, warm the car in advance, have the child wear it from house to car, then put it back on when you arrive). Put it over the child backwards once the straps are on. Use a blanket over the straps. Choose a lightweight fleece jacket that fits more safely beneath the straps. The fleece jackets are what we typically choose to do, and I don’t loosen the straps from the “safe” amount prior to the child wearing the jacket. In cool, but not cold weather, light layers work just fine too.
Preparing for Car Accidents
We never expect to get in an accident, but they are more common in the winter due to poor driving conditions. They can also be more dangerous because cars are harder to control, and once the accident has occurred, people are out in freezing temperatures until help can arrive.
Keeping a car-safety kit in your trunk is a great idea, for both car accidents, or just in case of a flat tire, becoming stranded in snow, etc. A car-safety kit should include:
- A flashlight (preferably one that doesn’t require batteries; some can be wound up)
- Road flares
- A jack
- Jumper cables
- Non-perishable snacks (nuts, dried fruit, bottled water, jerky, etc.)
- Lightweight, warm blankets
These items can help keep you warm and safe in case of an emergency in the winter. If you have small children, extra diapers and wipes are a good idea too, and if needed, bottles and formula (preferably powdered so it will store safely).
Keeping your family safe in the car in the winter is just a matter of planning and preparing ahead of time. Make sure everyone’s strapped in safely and you’ve got an emergency kit and you’ll be ready for most occurences!