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Use the right car restraint for child's size
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Last January, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration revised the consumer ratings system for child safety seats in an effort to clear up confusion about the variety of seats available and the installation methods required.
NHTSA data indicated that seven out of 10 child safety seats were either the wrong size for the child or are seriously misused, reducing their effectiveness in a crash, according to the agency reported.
NHTSA estimates properly-used child restraint systems will reduce fatal injury by 71 percent for infants and 54 percent for toddlers in passenger cars. The reduction declines in light trucks to 58 percent for infants and 59 percent for toddlers.
Motor vehicle crashes are the number one killer of children ages 2 to 14. Children between the ages of 4 and 8 who use booster seats and safety belts are 59 percent less likely to be injured in a car crash than children who are restrained only by a safety belt. What is confusing about that?
Quite a few parents continue to have the wrong impression — they think that children who have outgrown child safety seats are protected if they use safety belts, but they are very wrong. Safety belts are designed to fit adults and won’t fully restrain a child in a crash. Using a booster seat will better protect the child from being thrown from the vehicle or thrown around inside it, should the car be involved in a crash.
Only 10-20 percent of kids ages 4 to 8 who should be using booster seats and safety belts to protect themselves are actually doing so. Being in the wrong restraint for their size puts many children at risk of being injured or killed in crashes, and this is seen most often in children in this age group.
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 94 percent of America’s toddlers are now regularly restrained, but this is definitely not true for children between the ages of 4 to 8. NHTSA also reports a definite relationship between drivers using safety belts and children being restrained. Their study shows that 92 percent of the children who were transported by belted drivers were restrained, compared to only 62 percent of the children transported by unbelted drivers.
Booster seats have been proven effective in protecting children up through 8 years old from serious injury, and they protect a child against head injury four times better than the use of seat belts alone. Children should start using a booster seat when they grow out of their child safety seats (usually when they weigh about 40 pounds).
Without a booster seat, a small child can be ejected from a vehicle in a crash. One study showed that children ages 2 to 5 who are moved to safety belts too early have four times the risk of sustaining a head injury in a crash.
Children should continue to ride in a booster seat until the lap/shoulder belts in the car fit properly (or typically when they are 4’9” tall). Belt-positioning booster seats raise children up so the lap and shoulder belts fit correctly. They require a lap and shoulder belt combination. Shield booster seats, which have a plastic shield in front of the child, offer less protection and should not be used.
Securing children in the right restraint at the right time is one of the most important things you can do to protect your child. Booster seats are as important as any of the other steps and can save children’s lives.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration recommends the following four steps for kids in order to guide parents’ choice of vehicle restraint:
• Rear-facing infant seats in the back seat from birth to at least one year old and at least 20 pounds.
• Forward-facing toddler seats in the back seat from age one to about age four and 20 to 40 pounds..
• Booster seats in the back seat from about age four (40-80 pounds) to at least age eight, unless 4'9".
• Safety belts at age eight or older or taller than 4'9". All children 12 and under should ride in the back seat.
While child restraint use is up in infants and toddlers, improper use of these safety devices continues to be high. Nearly 73 percent of all child restraints are improperly used, needlessly exposing children to an increased risk of death or injury. The most common critical abuses were loose harness straps securing the child and a loose vehicle safety belt attachment to the child restraint.
If you are unsure about the proper way to attach a child vehicle restraint, please ask for help. There are trained technicians at the fire department, the health department, pediatrician’s office and the police station eager to assist you.
For additional information about child passenger safety or assistance in finding a technician to help with a child vehicle restraint, call your local health department or fire department.

Ratcliffe is the public information officer for the Liberty County Health Department.
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