Car seats and booster seats keep young ones safe in case of a car accident. However, many parents do not understand or follow proper car seat guidelines or regulations designed to keep their child protected.
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), car crashes are a leading cause of death for children between ages 1 and 13. The site also states that in 2015, 35% of children younger than 13 died in car crashes because of improper buckling–in car seats, in booster seats or with seat belts.
Dr. Ashley Tian, pediatric neurosurgeon at Banner Desert Medical Center, says if a child’s car seat is not properly installed or inappropriate for their age, they could be ejected or hit their head on another part of the car.
Common injuries for children in accidents are subdural hematomas or skull fractures. “Their heads are heavy, so they tend to accelerate at a higher rate than the rest of the body,” Dr. Tian said. “This causes children to be more likely to get injuries like a subdural hematoma.”
The significance of car seats go beyond a child could getting a bruise. In fact, the injuries to their brains could be permanent. “Children’s brains are not fully developed,” Dr. Tian said. “So if their skills are not developed, like walking or talking, they may not be able to do these tasks at a later time.”
Injuries could also result in paralysis, the inability to learn, being incapable of eating by mouth or children could need a spinal fluid shunt, according to Dr. Tian.
Kids with concussions might experience short-term memory loss, headaches or an inability to tolerate school. The headaches could last several weeks, six months or be permanent, Dr. Tian said.
Car seat recommendations
A major misconception when it comes to car seat safety is that, when a child turns 1 and/or weighs 20 pounds, it is safe for them to switch to a forward facing car seat. However, this is the minimum requirement.
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) updated its car seat safety recommendations. They now want parents to keep toddlers in rear-facing car seats until they are 2, or reach the maximum height and weight for their seat. This can be between 35 and 50 pounds.
According to the AAP, rear-facing car seats are safer for children because they better support the head, neck and spine of infants and toddlers in a crash by distributing the force of the collision over the entire body.
It is crucial for a child to be rear facing as long as possible because a child’s head reaches almost adult size by the time they are 2.
“Their head is out of proportion. So, when they are restrained and not rear facing, their head is more likely to move forward,” Dr. Tian said. “They have not developed the neck muscle to hold their heads in place like adults.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that car seat use significantly reduces the risk of death among children. In 2015, the year for which the latest data is available from the CDC, 663 children ages 12 years and younger died in motor vehicle crashes. More than 230 of them were not buckled in.
“First-time parents need to read the instructions to car seats carefully,” Dr. Tian said. “Parents can take the car seat to a number of places, like hospitals or police and fire stations, to learn how to properly install the seat. Some places will check the car seat for you or install it.”