Buy a safety seat that is labeled, “Meets Federal motor vehicle safety standards,” and begin using it the day you bring your baby home from the hospital. Many hospitals, in fact, do not allow parents to take their baby home until they show a hospital representative that they have a car seat. Continue using a safety seat for your child until he is 4 years old or weighs over 40 pounds, at which time you can switch him to adult seat belts. However, if your 4-year- old does not weigh 40 pounds, he is best protected in a safety seat. Do not put your child in an adult shoulder harness until he is 4 feet in height. You may want to use a booster seat. Every state has a child restraint law. Check with your local Department of Motor Vehicles to learn the restrictions in your state. If your safety seat is secondhand or several years old, you might want to call the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s Hotline to check if it was recalled. The operator can also give you other car seat information.
Automobile accidents are the leading cause of death in young children. Statistics show that they are way ahead of all other types of accidents, as well as all diseases. In addition, auto crashes are a major cause of epilepsy and paraplegia in children.
In a crash, swerve, or sudden stop, your baby could be thrown into the dashboard, windshield, or another passenger. He could also be thrown out of the car. Although your arms are usually the best place for your baby, they are not when you are riding in an automobile. Tests have shown that volunteers holding 17-pound baby-size dummies were not able to hold onto the “babies” in impacts at 15 miles per hour and 30 miles per hour, even though they were prepared for the crashes. Even a tiny 10-pound infant can be thrown forward with a force of 300 pounds in a 30-mile-per-hour impact. This is equivalent to falling from a three-story building. Putting your baby in the seat belt with you is also not safe because the baby would be crushed by the force of your body.
Infants, as well as babies under 20 pounds and less than 1 year of age, should be placed in a semireclined, backward-facing restraint that you have anchored snugly to the vehicle seat using a lap belt according to both the car and safety seat manufacturers’ directions. When your baby is over 1 year of age and at least 20 pounds, he can safely be moved to a securely anchored forward-facing seat. Certain child restraint models are raised to allow the occupant to see out the window, a feature that many older children prefer. If your car has dual air bags, do not place the safety seat, or any child under the age of 13, in the front passenger seat. According to a 2-year study by the National Transportation Safety Board, an air bag can discharge with enough force to cause multiple injuries and even death in children. The study also found that children sitting in safety seats may incur injuries or die if the child restraint is improperly attached.
Newborns with specific risk factors may need to be transported in a special car bed rather than the standard infant seat. These babies include preterm and low-birth-weight infants, infants who have experienced apnea (stopped breathing), and infants with certain genetic disorders (Down syndrome). If your infant falls into any of these categories, check with your pediatrician about the need for a special car bed.
Remember that no safety seat will protect your child from injury unless he is properly secured in it. Take the time to strap him in, even for short trips. Most accidents happen within 25 miles of home. Studies have shown that up to 90 percent of child restraints are used improperly. Read your car owner’s manual and the instructions with the safety seat. Check to make sure the seat is properly fastened in the car each time. Do not wrap your child in blankets before securing the straps. The straps should fit snugly against his body.
Never leave your child (or pet) in an unattended car for any amount of time. A car heats up rapidly, even with the windows down. Your child could become overheated, have an accident, be kidnapped, or wander off unnoticed.