This post has been a long time coming, and I feel the need to share what I’m about to type since I’ve recently seen and talked about child car seat safety a lot in recent days. This is something very important to me – like my husband and myself, most parents would do any and everything in the world to protect their children, and sadly, one of the things that can be done to protect your child is so easily overlooked. The thought of having a wreck with my children in the vehicle haunts me every time we are driving, but I know that keeping them restrained is the best protection I can provide them while being transported. They know the rules about buckling up and staying buckled, so we don’t have arguments over it, as other parents have told me before that they hate arguing with their kids over buckling up. Unfortunately, there is so much misinformation around this area, and I’d hate for anyone to lose their child/children in a car crash as a result of improper car seat protection, so I wanted to provide some information for parents.
Rear-Facing vs. Forward-Facing
In Missouri, there is NO law that states a child under a year old must be rear-facing. But in Tennessee, there is a law that children under one year old OR under 20 lbs. (regardless if they are over 1 year old or not) must be rear-facing, so if you’re caught in TN in violation of this law, you will most likely get a ticket regardless of Missouri law. However, more important than the law, is the actual protection of your child/children in a car crash, or even something simple as slamming on the brakes.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children remain rear-facing until two years of age, and until the child reaches the maximum height or weight for their car seat, whether under or over two years of age(but over one year old). The reason for this is to protect and support the young and developing child’s head, neck, and spine by distributing the force of the collision by rear-facing. If your child is forward-facing, there are many injuries that can be caused due to the child’s head being thrown forward with impact, and one of the worst injuries is a condition called “atlanto-occipital dislocation”, or internal decapitation, where the skull separates from the spinal cord. And yes, it does and has happened – some people recover, but is generally fatal. (You can read a story of a 2 year old boy who had this happen to him, and thankfully recovered: Boy Suffers from Internal Decapitation ).
Regardless if your child does recover from injuries from a car crash in which they were forward-facing before two years of age, it’s more important to never have your child experience such trauma in the first place if you can avoid it. For me, I turned the first three of my children forward-facing at one year of age, because that’s what I thought was right and legal. When I was pregnant with Cooper, I learned of the AAP’s recommendation and kept him turned until he was 18 months, since he was getting so big. Sure, it can be a nuisance to keep a child turned for that long, but it was more important to me to keep him safe in case of a car wreck. And the chances of you being in a car wreck might be slim, but you have no idea if or when a wreck could happen. Just like having car insurance to protect you financially, you have no idea when you’ll need to have it, but ever so grateful when you do need it. So better to have your child properly restrained as your “insurance”, rather than watch your child suffer injuries or death.
While I’m discussing child seat safety, there are several things you should know about the harness and how to best protect your child:
Chest Clips: Please know that the chest clips that are part of your child’s 5-point harness car seat are designed to buckle across the chest – not at the neck, abdomen, or even below. With the force of a car wreck, children have been thrown out of their car seats due to the chest clip not in the proper place. It should be buckled and placed at ARMPIT level – anything above can damage the esophagus or trachea or choke them, and anything below (abdomen area) could damage vital organs. So please use the chest clip ON THE CHEST AT ARMPIT LEVEL.
Straps: Make sure that the harness straps are not twisted, and that they are snug over your child’s shoulders – not hanging down, not loose. You should NOT be able to put even one finger under the straps at the shoulder. Also, the straps should be tight enough over the body – use the two-finger rule (only two fingers should be able to slip under the straps at the belly), and you shouldn’t be able to even pinch the strap together after they have been securely buckled in. And please, remove all coats and extra clothing when buckling them in. This give a false sense of being probably buckled in; however, with the force of a crash, your child can still be thrown out of the car seat due the coat or extra clothing being compressed, thus revealing the “slack” in the harness.
In all likelihood, you will probably never experience a car crash with your child, and I hope you never do. But in the day of people texting while driving, drinking and driving, falling asleep, people paying less attention behind the wheel, and such, you can never be too sure if you will be in a wreck; if you are, you will want to protect the ones you love the most. Please feel free to share this post and discuss with others that will be transporting your children – it could save your child’s life.