17 July 2007

Child Seat Heads-Up and Plea

In the past month, I've had three conversations with parents or grandparents of young children (or, in one case, future parents of a young child) who spoke of putting their child in an infant carrier in the front seat of their vehicle. After having these conversations, I was almost dumbfounded, because I had no clue that there were still parents in 2007 that didn't put their children in the back seat as all of the safety experts advised. I figured that if I couldn't properly convince those people to use the back seat only for children, maybe I could save some other lives instead of their childrens'/grandchildrens'.

The belief that it's "OK" or "not a big deal" to have a very young child in the front seat of a car is, in my opinion, foolish. The reason cars and trucks have frontal airbags is because most collisions are frontal; simple physics then tells us that the further away from the impact a passenger is, the less likely it is that they would be injured or killed. Just think about that one - the back seat in almost any car is probably four or five feet farther from the firewall than the front seat. According to safekids.org, crash statistics bear this common sense out; one study showed that children are 37% more likely to be killed if seated in the front seat rather than the rear seat. As a father, I am fully in favor of giving my child a 37% better chance of surviving a crash, as should any responsible parent.

Here's another chilling statistic, from the NHTSA: "Motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for the age group 3 to 14 years old (based on 2003 figures, which are the latest mortality data currently available from the National Center for Health Statistics)." The same report also states, "Research on the effectiveness of child safety seats has found them to reduce fatal injury by 71 percent for infants (less than 1 year old) and by 54 percent for toddlers (1-4 years old) in passenger cars." So doesn't it stand to reason that it's important to properly restrain your young child?

Although I have personally buckled up since childhood, and have never driven a car without wearing one, I consider myself far from extreme in my child safety views. In fact, I believe that laws such as Pennsylvania's that require a child of up to seven years old to be in a booster seat to be a little over-the-top, considering there is no weight exemption. If you have a Baby Huey-sized seven year old who weighs 110 pounds, it's ridiculous to have him in a booster seat. I do support mandatory seatbelt laws, particularly for children 17 and under, however.

Here are some excuses I've heard for putting children in the front seat that carry ZERO weight with me, as well as my response to these statements.

"When I was raising my kids 30 years ago, we didn't even have cars seats, and they turned out fine!"
Yes, but there are plenty of kids from our generation who didn't turn out fine, because they were killed or maimed in traffic accidents. The overall fatality rate has basically been cut by more than half since 1975, from 3.5 fatalities per 100 million vehicle miles of travel, to 1.47 in 2005 (link to recent data). So obviously we're doing something better with regard to occupant protection today. Is it possible we know more now than we did then?

"It's much easier to take care of an infant in the front seat, rather than unsafely reaching to the back seat while driving."
While it is unsafe to reach to the back seat to take care of a baby, having a mirror on the seat so that you can see the baby without turning your head makes this situation safer (as long as the mirror is secured properly). I don't think holding a baby bottle while driving is any safer than reaching to the back seat (we prefer to have a single child seat on the right side of the car so the reach is easier). It's also prudent to just pull over for a minute to take care of the baby.

"If it's going to be your time to be killed in a car accident, there's nothing you can do to change that. You can't improve your odds."
Yes, you CAN improve your odds. If you KNEW for sure that you were going to be in a traffic accident tomorrow, and there was nothing you could do to stop it, would you wear a seatbelt at least for tomorrow? Of course you would. That's called improving your odds. If you wouldn't, (and I say this with all due respect), you're an imbecile. I believe very strongly in God, but I don't plan on tempting fate by leaving myself or anyone in my family unprotected in the car. I will also buy every airbag possible in any new vehicle I purchase.

"If you only have a two seat car, it's legal to have the baby in the front passenger seat in Pennsylvania."
Just because it's legal doesn't mean it's safe. I've already mentioned one area where Pennsylvania went overboard with the child restraint laws (no weight limit on the boosters); they have also ignored serious potential safety issues allowing small children in the front seat and allowing children to be unrestrained in a vehicle that has all of the other seating positions are occupied by restrained passengers. So the Baby Huey seven year old needs a booster seat, unless his parents own a five-passenger car and he's the sixth passenger, in which case he can sit on his brother's lap. If someone owns only a two-seat car or pickup, and there is no other way to transport a child, it's still a bad idea, but at least be certain that the passenger airbag is deactivated for all small children, and it's absolutely essential to do so with rear-facing seats.

I apologize for the preachy article, but please, think carefully about the way you are protecting your children in the car. It's your job as a parent to make smart decisions for them.

Additional resources:
Child Seat FAQ: http://www.usa.safekids.org/tier3_cd.cfm?content_item_id=6551&folder_id=170

Child car seat safety at Edmunds:

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