It’s every parent’s worst nightmare. In August, a mother and her two children were involved in a high-speed accident on Interstate 640. Four of the vehicle’s six passengers were ejected from the car when it rolled over. Two of those people were very young children strapped to car seats.
They survived the wreck and were brought to the hospital in critical condition. One has to wonder: why exactly were the children ejected from the vehicle? As it turns out, their car seats weren’t properly attached to the seats, and it’s a more common problem than you might think.
Susan Cook, the injury prevention coordinator for East Tennessee Children’s Hospital, says an astonishing four out of five car seats are improperly used or installed. This poses an extreme safety hazard to many children.
Thankfully, a few organizations have devoted themselves to solving this issue. One of them is the Safe Kids Coalition, which organizes grassroots education programs intended to instruct parents of proper safety protocol, as well as prevent unnecessary injury or death due to improperly used car seats.
In Knoxville, they’ve worked with local police to set up “safety checkpoints,” which involve traffic stops to ensure car seats are set up correctly. Susan Cook and Children’s Hospital work with the Safe Kids Coalition to reduce potential harm to children.
Cook also advised parents on proper car seat safety, highlighting a number of common mistakes she sees. One of the most common mistakes is making the seat too loose, she says. Parents often have the seat too loosely attached to the vehicle, or have the harness too loose on their child. Many parents mean well—their children may insist on having more mobility while riding in the car, for example.
But Cook says the harnesses should be tight. “Winches,” she says, interfere with the straps’ ability to function as intended during a car accident. She says the car seat shouldn’t be able to move more than an inch if shaken.
ABC2 News reports further:
“The harness needs to be coming from the correct slots for the child’s height, and the chest clip should be positioned at armpit level. Once it’s buckled, you shouldn’t be able to ‘pinch’ any excess strap at the child’s shoulder. On older children, position seat belts over their hips, not their organs.”
Cook sums up her advice with a simple adage: “Remember, belts over bones,” she said.
She also advises children use rear-facing car seats for as long as possible, recommending they use these seats until at least the age of two. She also offers up this little-known fact: car seats have expiration dates. How could a car seat possibly expire? It’s not so much “going rotten” as being behind the times. Older seats may have been recalled for safety issues, or may not comply with current standards. There is, also, the possibility of significant wear over time. Children tend to be destructive creatures by habit, and may exacerbate a car seat’s demise.
When Knoxville police or the Kids Safety Coalition checks a vehicle for proper car seat safety, they don’t ticket or fine the parents or guardians responsible if things aren’t up to par. This is a widespread problem that is being tackled through education and initiative programs, and so far it’s working. Parents who are involved in serious accidents which bring harm to their children, however, may need to consult an expert in family law, as parents can be found liable for their children’s injuries in cases of extreme disregard for car seat safety.
In all, car seat safety is a serious legal and safety issue affecting Tennessee, but through the power of education and grassroots, community policing, the problem is being tackled in a civil and effective way.