Child passenger safety has dramatically evolved during the past decade; however, motor vehicle crashes continue to be the leading cause of death for children ages 4 and older.
Always buckling children into age- and size-appropriate car seats, booster seats and seat belts reduces serious and fatal injuries by up to 80 percent.
Chaffee County Public Health has had a child passenger safety program for eight years and employs two Certified Child Passenger Safety Technicians – or car seat techs.
Over the years we have witnessed everything from outrageous and unsafe car seat installations to minor mistakes. Any error – big or small – can lead to serious injury in a crash.
Choosing the right seat and installing it correctly is confusing. Here are some tips to make sure your children are safe on the road.
Location: Children 12 and younger should always sit in the back seat, whether that is in a car seat, a booster seat or a seat belt.
Rear-facing vs. forward facing: Children should remain rear-facing as long as they are within the maximum height and weight for that seat, typically age 2 and potentially much longer.
Children should remain forward-facing in a harness until reaching the maximum height and weight for that seat. Many children could be in a harnessed car seat through age 6 or 7.
Boosters: Parents are very quick to switch their children into a booster seat, sometimes as early as age 4. However, many car seats allow children to be in a harnessed seat until they are around 65 pounds. A harnessed car seat is much safer than a booster seat, especially for younger children.
Seat belts: As with boosters, many children move into seat belts too soon. Colorado law states that children must be in a booster seat until they turn 8. But most 8-year-old children should still be in a booster seat. If your child thinks they are ready to ditch the booster seat, see if they meet these five criteria:
1. Does the child sit all the way back against the seat?
2. Do the child’s knees bend at the edge of the seat?
3. Does the belt cross the shoulder between the neck and arms?
4. Is the lap belt as low as possible, touching the thighs?
5. Can the child stay seated this way for the whole trip? If a child is constantly putting the seat belt behind their back or under their arm, a booster seat might still be necessary.
Harnessing: The harness straps of a car seat should be tight enough that you cannot pinch any of the webbing. The chest clip should always be at armpit level. If the child is rear-facing, the harness straps should be at or below their shoulders.
If the child is forward-facing, the harness straps should be at or above their shoulders. Be careful of puffy jackets or snow suits. Children should either not wear a jacket or wear a thinner jacket, ensuring the harness is actually tight enough.
Installation: Car seats installed with the LATCH system or the seat belt should not move more than 1 inch side to side and front to back.
A loosely installed seat is a common mistake, and the consequences can be devastating in a crash. If your child uses a forward-facing harnessed car seat, be sure you are using the top tether.
If you have any questions about your child’s car seat or booster seat, please call Chaffee County Public Health at 719-539-4510 and ask to speak to a car seat technician.
Car seat fitting appointments are free and available to parents, grandparents, babysitters and anyone else who transports children on the road.