Goshen News, Goshen, IN

November 17, 2013

WHOLE FAMILY: Car-seat safety should be on the minds of parents

Goshen News

---- — In April 2012, I wrote a column noting my decisions to have my babies as close and visible to me in a vehicle as safely and legally possible — like putting my toddler in a forward-facing car seat the minute he was ready to be there.

If you read that column you’d find that my ramblings were less about car-seat safety and more about parental decision-making and standing on my liberty to make autonomous, sound decisions for my family.

In general, I am frustrated when broad-sweeping laws trouble mindful parents rather than actually address whatever population or issue they’re designed to address.

Boy, did I hear it from some people after that column ran. I mean pretty harsh accusations — like I didn’t care about my children and wanted them to die in car crashes. Those kinds of wild allegations were unfair, I know, though they opened my eyes to how mean we parents can be when we’re not in agreement with each other’s decisions.

Ever heard of “The Mommy Wars?” I hate them.

But I’ve recently been thinking about that column, car-seat safety and about parenting, childhood injuries and deaths. That column, though accurate in most sentiments, was short-sighted and averted the important issue — car-seat safety — that many parents DO need to think about more soberly, me included.

I recently completed a clinical rotation on a pediatric unit at a local hospital, and while I saw no children with injuries from car-seat hazards or car crashes, I heard a lot of stories. I get it, now, why some readers were so incensed at my casual attitude toward car-seat recommendations.

I am sorry.

But guess what? Car-seat recommendations are evolving — an always relevant issue — so I can reiterate them here and remind us all to pay attention. I still have a little one not yet 3 years old and a couple others in boosters. Admission: I look forward to the day when we don’t have to mess with car seats at all, when simple seat belts will do.

Until then, some reminders:

• According to the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA), the key to car-seat safety for children is putting children in the right seat at the right time and used the right way. (NHTSA)

• Birth to 12 months, children should be in a rear-facing seat for sure – for sure. And, depending on their size, children can be secured safely in a rear facer until age 3 years. (NHTSA)

• Children are ready to move to a forward-facing car seat either by age 3 years (usually) or when they outgrow the height and weight limits of the rear facer. The forward-facing seat should have a harness. (NHTSA)

• From about ages 4 years to 7 years, children should stay in a forward-facing harness seat until they outgrow the height and weight limits for the seat. A new rule in effect in 2014 requires car-seat manufacturers to advise consumers to NOT use the LATCH (Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children) belts to attach seats in vehicles if the weight of the child plus the car seat exceeds 65 pounds. (USA Today)

• From ages 8 years to 12 years, most children are safe on a booster seat with a regular shoulder belt. The NHTSA says, “For a seat belt to fit properly the lap belt must lie snugly across the upper thighs, not the stomach. The shoulder belt should lie snug across the shoulder and chest and not cross the neck or face.” And children up to about 12 years should sit in the back seat, where they are safest. (NHTSA)

Whew. Those are the basic guidelines. It is worth noting some state laws, too. Specifically: In Indiana, children ages 7 years and younger are required to be in a child safety seat. From 8 years to 15 years or greater than or equal to 40 pounds, they can use an adult shoulder harness (regular) seat belt. (Governors Highway Safety Association)

Note, too, we are blessed with many resources for assessing car-seat safety. The Elkhart County Health Department, for one, offers free inspections, as does South Bend’s Memorial Children’s Hospital. ECHD: 574-523-2116 and MCH: 574-647-1804. I’m sure there are others.

I do not regret having secured my infants and toddlers the way I did — either next to me or easy to see and reach. We were smart, mindful, legal and, most importantly, safe. But I do see how important it is to make sure parents have good information and resources to do the same.

So there you go.

Goshen News columnist Stephanie Price is a wife, mother, teacher, childbirth educator, midwife’s assistant and nursing student from Elkhart. Contact her at wholefamily@goshennews.com, 269-641-7249 or on Facebook at the page “Whole Family Column by Steph Price.”