When the “Greatest Generation” were raising their baby boomer children, the use of car seats (or even seat belts) was rare. Most children spent time rolling around like bowling pins in the beds of pick-up trucks or on top of the flattened interior of the family station wagon. Newborns made that first trip from the hospital snuggled securely in the arms of their mothers. Once home, that’s pretty much where they spent the bulk of their early years until it was time to head to church, take a family vacation or catch the bus to kindergarten.
Today’s families are much more mobile and parents must navigate a mind-boggling array of choices when choosing child restraint systems. To comply with state laws, they must know the difference between a rear-facing seat designed for infants and young children and a front-facing device designated for use by an older child. They will also need to learn the essential nature of a booster-style seat for children up to 80 lbs. and 13 years of age.
While we have no shortage of rules and laws governing car-seat requirements, we’re a long way from making sure those seats are actually effective. A National Highway Traffic Safety Administration study indicates that nearly 75 percent of children’s car seats are installed improperly, and, in some instances, that estimate jumps to an inconceivable 90 percent.
Given the number of seats on the market and the types of vehicles they’re installed in, it’s no wonder the vast majority of seats are prone to failure in an accident. In some cases, they’re the wrong size for the age or weight of the child, or, they’re missing essential straps or buckles. There are even tragic instances where the seat is merely plopped in the car without being attached to the vehicle in any fashion.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has a website to help parents figure out the complicated world of child seats. With links to the Governor’s Highway Safety Association showing the requirements by state, as well as the potential fines for noncompliance, they also offer an interactive map showing the various locations where professionals will check the installation of your child’s car seat and teach the proper technique for assuring it is as safe and secure as possible.
If car seats aren’t used properly, infants and children are no more protected than in the old days, and perhaps it’s even worse if the seats give parents a false sense of security. For the love of your kids and grandchildren, take the time to “check and cross check” their car seats.