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Experts: Car seats essential for babies, toddlers

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A consistent transportation plan is especially critical when traveling with toddlers who feel too independent for a car seat.

“Our 2-year-old daughter discovered how to unbuckle the top strap on her car seat, and once I had to immediately stop the car,” says Sarah Strayer, Palm Beach County mother of three.

This experience has led her to caution parents to prepare ahead and never assume all children will behave the same way in the car.

When several people, be it mothers, fathers, grandparents or babysitters are caring for a child, things like this can get confusing. Several concerns with travel safety may arise.

“For trips with toddlers in the car seat, be sure to stock up and pack the pockets behind the front seat with cardboard books, especially ones with buttons to push and make sounds,” says Ann Pennington, Palm Beach County grandmother of five children up to age 9. She switches her book selections up every now and then.

Kelly Powell, program director for Safe Kids Palm Beach County, answers the above questions and others:

Q: What are some rules for car seats and boosters that parents should enforce when someone else travels with their child?

A: Confirm that family all buckles up and follows the law on every trip. Ask the difficult questions. You need to find out if they follow the same rules as your own family. Everyone your child rides with should have your family’s same safety priorities. Be aware of parental driving behaviors and family lifestyles. You need to be very familiar with whom your kids are riding because you want them safe on every ride.

Create and enforce a family transportation plan that everyone discusses and agrees to and that applies to every ride, for every person. Talk about how no one should ever text and drive. Avoid distractions. Make safe choices. Discuss the importance of keeping everyone safely buckled at all times without exception, even the parents.

Q: How can a parent best handle a tough conversation with a grandparent or elder who thinks using a car seat or booster seat is unnecessary because they didn’t use them when raising kids? 

A: Research shows that having a child properly secured in a child restraint will decrease injury and increase survival rates. Motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death to children ages 2 to 14 and the leading cause of injury-related deaths for children under 2. Road injuries are the leading cause of unintentional deaths to children in the United States. Correctly used child safety seats can reduce the risk of death by as much as 71 percent. Most grandparents today didn’t grow up using seat belts for their kids because there wasn’t this extensive research, and also families weren’t on the road as much. We spend much more of our time in cars now, and we know that seat belts and car seats absolutely save lives.

Q: When using public transportation with a baby or toddler, such as a taxi, Uber or bus, should a parent bring a car seat or booster? What if there are no seat belts to secure it? Is it better to hold the baby or put them in the car seat? 

A: Just because you are in someone else’s car, you are not in a magic bubble. It is your parental responsibility to make sure your child is buckled safely on every ride in the appropriate child restraint. No matter where you are going, follow your family transportation plan.

On public transportation, it is a good idea to use the car seat or at least a seat belt whenever available, primarily because you are creating good repetition for your child. Buses are much heavier than cars and do absorb crash forces differently, so it is not legally required to have a child restraint. You can hold the child on your lap if there are no other options.

Q: What should parents know about longer trips that require an airline flight or rental car?

A: Most airlines do not require a child to be in a car seat. Because many devices are large, most won’t fit in a seat. Children under 2 can share their parent’s seat. When we buckle up on airlines, we are primarily protecting ourselves from turbulence because most airline crashes are deemed unsurvivable. If you are traveling with your own car seat and not using it on the plane, it is recommended that you gate-check it to keep it on top of the baggage stack and prevent damage.

If someone is picking you up at the airport and you don’t bring your own car seat, ensure the driver will have the appropriate, safe car seat for your child. Take time to make a plan regarding if the car seat will already be installed or if you will be installing it yourself. If renting one from a car rental company, make sure it is an up-to-date model.

Q: Are there any quick and easy resources to determine the right size/type of a car seat or booster for a child? Is it based on age, height or other factors? 

A: Visit safekids.org for the most current information. In Palm Beach County, we have a number of child safety seat inspections offered to the community throughout the year. Call Safe Kids Palm Beach County at 561-841-3500, extension 4012, to find the closest location. You can also find inspection locations by downloading the SafeMap smartphone app or going to the “What If?” section of the Children’s Services Council of Palm Beach County website, cscpbc.org. Many local inspection stations offer new seats at a discounted price.

As a rule, babies under the age of 2 use rear-facing car seats buckled tightly in the backseat. The car seat shouldn’t move more than one inch when you pull it, and the straps must be snug, meaning you can’t pinch the buckled strap. Use a bigger seat rear facing until the child outgrows the harness. Many harnesses go to 35, 40 or 45 pounds.

If your child is older than 2, and if he or she has outgrown the weight and height limits of the rear-facing seat, then move to a forward-facing car seat. Toddlers and big kids use forward-facing car seats. Use the top tether designed for the seat and have your child remain in this car seat until he or she outgrows the harness. Many harnesses go to 50 pounds or more.

Five tips for car seats:

Seventy-three percent of car seats are not used or installed correctly, so use these guidelines to check your car seat before hitting the road:

Right seat: Check the label on your car seat to ensure it's appropriate for your child's age, weight and height. Like milk, your car seat has an expiration date, so be sure to check that too.
Right place: Kids are VIPs. (Just ask them.) VIPs ride in the backseat, so keep children in the backseat until they are big enough to ride without a booster seat.
Right direction: Keep your children in rear-facing car seats for as long as possible, usually until around age 2. When they outgrow their seats, move them to forward-facing car seats. Attach the top tether after you tighten and lock the seat belt or lower anchors.
Inch test: After installation, shake the car seat at the base where the seat belt fits. Can you move it more than an inch side-to-side or front-to-back? It should not move more than an inch.
Pinch test: Ensure the harness is tightly buckled and coming from the correct slots (check car seat manual). Pinch the strap at your child's shoulder with the chest clip at armpit level. If you can’t pinch any excess webbing, you're ready to roll.
SOURCE: Safe Kids Worldwide


• Kelly Powell, program director, Safe Kids Palm Beach County 

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