Unfortunately, seat belts do not come in one-size-fits-all. In fact, the seat belt that is designed to save an adult’s life in a crash does not fit a young child. And, the poor fit of the seat belt can actually cause serious injuries or even death during a crash.
Many parents are under the impression that a child can be moved to the vehicle seat belt system when they have outgrown the weight limits of their child safety seat. Most conventional forward-facing child safety seats have a five-point harness system that can be used until 40 pounds. However, most children weigh 40 pounds long before they are tall enough to fit in the vehicle lap/shoulder belt.
Children do not fit well in the vehicle lap/shoulder belts that were designed for adults who are at least 4 feet, 9 inches tall. Instead of fitting properly over the lower hips, the lap belt rides over the soft tissues of the abdomen and can cause severe injury or death.
The shoulder portion of the belt hits the child’s neck or face instead of lying flat across the chest. This causes many children to place the shoulder belt behind their back, leaving them with no upper body protection. A booster seat ‘boosts’ the child up so the lap/shoulder belt will fit correctly and provide protection in a crash.
Using a booster seat correctly can protect a child from being thrown around the vehicle or being totally ejected in a crash. In a crash, children who are incorrectly restrained by a lap/shoulder belt are likely to sustain serious injuries to internal organs as well as the head and spinal cord.
Motor vehicle crashes continue to be the leading cause of death for children ages 3 and up. Child safety seats, including boosters, have been proven to be effective in preventing injuries and deaths, yet in 2011, 41 percent of Texas booster-seat age children killed in motor vehicle crashes were unrestrained.
Studies show that booster seats can reduce the risk of injury by 59 percent for children ages 4 to 7, but children in this age group are the least likely to be properly restrained. Surveys conducted in Texas in 2012 by the Texas A&M Transportation Institute found that only 33.4 percent of our booster seat age children were restrained.
The law in Texas requires children under age 8, unless taller than 4 feet 9 inches to be in a child restraint system according to the manufacturer’s instructions. According to the law, an 8-year-old can legally ride in the seat belt, but only a small percentage of 8-year-olds are 4 feet 9 inches. The average child reaches 4 feet 9 inches at age 11. Best practice is to keep the child in a booster seat until the lap/shoulder belts fits.
The injury rate and high costs associated with medical care and lost productivity for families is huge. Booster seats are an affordable solution to protecting children in the 4 to 8-plus age group. The cost of booster seats is low, generally between $15 and $40. It is estimated by Safe Kids Worldwide that a $30 booster seat generates $2,000 in benefit to society from reduced health-care expenses. Booster seats offer a low-cost solution to a high-cost problem.
When is your child ready for the seat belt?
Take the five-step test.
1. Does the child sit all the way back against the auto seat?
2. Do the child’s knees bend comfortably at the edge of the vehicle?
3. Does the belt cross the shoulder between the neck and arm?
4. Is the lap belt as low as possible, touching the thighs?
5. Can the child stay seated like this for the whole trip?
If you answered ‘no’ to any of these questions, your child needs a booster seat to make both the shoulder belt and the lap belt fit right for the best crash protection. Your child will be more comfortable, too.
Source: SafetyBeltSafe, U.S.A, www.carseat.org
For a free child safety seat inspection, call the Extension office at 940-627-3341 to set up an appointment.
Tanya Davis is a Wise County Extension agent.