Motor vehicle accidents are the leading cause of death for children between the ages of 2 and 14. Since many of these deaths could have been avoided with the proper use of car seats, every parent should take a few minutes to learn the basic dos and don't of car seats.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is an excellent source of information on car seats. The following are some prominent points they highlight, based on long-term experience with testing and accident statistics.
? Check rating before buying a car seat. Buying a car seat is an important decision. Don't just swing by the local discount store and buy what's on sale--do some research, and choose a model you can trust. Besides listing models that meet safety and crash performance, the NHTSA also offers ratings of one to five stars for ease of use, because proper usage is a major factor in the effectiveness of car seats.
? Place children in the back seat. Air bags are wonderful features--for adults. They can do everything from save your life to get you a discount on your car insurance. For children though, they are more of a threat than a help. If a child or baby is in the front seat, deployment of an air bag can cause injury by impact or suffocation. The NHTSA recommends that car seats always be placed in the back seat, and even once children have outgrown a car seat they should not sit in the front until they are at least 12 years old.
? Take advantage of free inspections. Even if you have the right general size of car seat for your child, proper adjustment for the fit is crucial. Many police stations offer free inspections and fittings, and the NHTSA can refer you to a list of inspection stations in your area.
? Take a one-size-fits-all approach. Car seats are recommended until children are at least age 8, so you are going to have to by more than one car seat eventually. Do not place an infant or toddler in a seat meant for an older child, because it will not only be ineffective, but could also pose a strangulation hazard. Car seats may seem expensive at the time of purchase, but measured against the long-term health and safety of your children, they represent a very reasonable investment.
? Place infants facing forward. While some seats can be adjusted to accommodate either infants or toddlers, it is important that the seat be placed facing the rear of the car, not the front, until the child is 1 year old and at least 20 pounds.
? Ignore recalls. Over the years, several car seats have been subjected to recalls, and these should be taken seriously. Act immediately if a recall is issued for a model you own.
Safety Done Right
Car buyers routinely shell out thousands of dollars for safety features such as air bags and anti-lock brakes. While these may be partially offset by discounts on car insurance, they represent substantial costs that people are willing to pay for their safety. Buying the right car seat, and taking the time to use it properly, represents a relatively small additional cost that can make all the difference to your child's future.
Richard Barrington is a freelance writer and novelist who previously spent over twenty years as an investment industry executive.
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