Wednesday, February 27, 2008

An important note about car seat safety...

If you know me, you know I'm passionate about a few things. Okay, more than a few. Maybe you've noticed that even my 8 year old is in a booster. Maybe you've wondered why Jae is in a harnessed carseat at 6. And maybe you've chalked Jack rear-facing up to the fact that we're just too exhausted with five kids to find the time to turn him around.

Maybe not.

Maybe you know this information already, and if so, bravo! It's definitely not common knowledge and most organizations are on a crusade just to get kids in carseats during the bare minimum amount of time. I can't say I blame them. Very few things make my blood boil like seeing an unrestrained child in a car. I think it should be punishable, by law, as parental negligence or endangering the life of a child.

Several years ago my Mother-in-Law lost slid at a slick highway exit ramp while approaching a red light. My daughter was a toddler and rear-facing at the time, but I still cradled around her body in an attempt to absorb the impact. I was so concerned with her safety, and so relieved when she didn't even seem to wake up after the accident, that it took a moment to process what I was seeing ahead of us. I watched as no less than seven people - four of whom were infants or toddlers - piled out of the back seat of the vehicle we had just hit. Not only were none of them in seat belts, not one was in a car seat! They ran off through the trees to get away before the police arrived on the scene, to avoid being ticketed. They were so lucky that night!! I hope that was enough to scare them into using child safety restraints, but something tells me it didn't change a thing.

In our state, the law is 8 and 80 - eight years, 80 pounds. In other states, it's less. To me, the fact that ANY state things 8 and 80 is the bare minimum is enough. It tells me that I had better look into the why.

Over the last few years, more data has come out on child seat safety. I KNOW this information is new to plenty of people. I do not hold it against you for not knowing. I'm here to give you the information, and let you make your own decision based on the statistics, the facts, the videos.

I know that car seats were hardly even used when I was a child. I have a picture of me, sitting next to some huge black vinyl contraption - and pictures of me in a pumpkin seat, ready to go out into the car. Today's roads are different. Cars go faster. Highways are more plentiful. Drivers are under the influence more. Sadly, it is often trial and fatal error that changes things like the aforementioned age and weight minimums. While some accidents are unpreventable, and no safety seat will prevent all injury, all the time, I thought I'd take this time to explain why we feel so strongly about having our little girls in harnessed, latched seats and having our little guy in a rear-facing seat still at 19 months.

When Jack's torso height exceeded the space that was considered safe in his Britax Boulevard seat (due to being casted over the shoulders) we were very limited in our options. Even the hospital couldn't find a seat that would work for us. However, an angel of a friend (thank you, sweet H) helped us purchase a new seat for Jackson that would safely allow him to be harnessed at the proper height, while remaining rear facing. Every time we drive, much less take an 8 hour road trip to his doctor appointments, I am so touched by her kindness and generosity during a difficult time. Someday, when all this is a memory, we will pay it forward tenfold.

Here is Jack in his Radian80 car seat with plenty of leg room, even though he is off the charts for height. (Hmm. Where'd he get that?) The outfit he is wearing is a 3T, for reference.

Watch the videos. Even if you don't have a child, you may one day - or you may have someone else's child in your car. The crash test footage speaks for itself.

It is also very common that people put small children in a seatbelt - or even a low-back belt positioning booster. Why is Jae in a five point harnessed seat? Because of Kyle. Literally, because of Kyle. I saw this video and we ordered a seat for her the same day. I promised to do all I could to help Kyle's Mom find some comfort, to know that her son's tragic death was not in vain. I had no idea. No clue whatsoever that seat belts fail this way. I had Jae in a high back Britax booster with side impact protection - the best! So did she. It wasn't the best. There are safer ways.
Rear-facing is safest for both adults and children, but especially for babies, who would face a greater risk of spinal cord injury in a front-facing carseat during a frontal crash.

Rear-facing car seats spread frontal crash forces over the whole area of a baby's back, head and neck; they also prevent the head from snapping relative to the body in a frontal crash.

Rear-facing carseats may not be quite as effective in a rear end crash, but severe frontal and frontal offset crashes are far more frequent and far more severe than severe rear end crashes.

Rear-facing carseats are NOT a safety risk just because a baby's legs are bent at the knees or because they can touch/kick the vehicle seat.

Rear-facing as long as possible is the recommendation of the American Academy of Pediatricians, and can reduce injuries and deaths. Motor Vehicle Crashes are the #1 overall cause of death for children 14 and under.

MSNBC article

His study, presented at a recent meeting of the American Academy of Pediatrics, involved 870 children under age 2 who had been in either rear-facing or forward-facing car seats at the time of an automobile accident. He found that the children in forward-facing seats were more than four times as likely to be injured in side crashes as opposed to the children in rear-facing seats. The study also found a small but not statistically significant benefit for facing rear in frontal crashes.

American Academy of Pediatrics states: If a car safety seat accommodates children rear facing to higher weights, for optimal protection, the child should remain rear facing until reaching the maximum weight for the car safety seat, as long as the top of the head is below the top of the seat back.3

WARNING: GRAPHIC....but necessary

Rather it is the rigidity of the BONES in the neck, in combination with the connecting ligaments, that determines whether the spine will hold together and the spinal cord will remain intact within the confines of the vertebral column. This works for adults, but very young children have immature and incompletely ossified bones that are soft and will deform and/or
separate under tension, leaving the spinal cord as the last link between the head and the torso. Have you ever pulled an electric cord from the socket by the cord instead of the plug and broken the wires? Same problem. This scenario is based on actual physiological measures. According to Huelke et al,1 "In autopsy specimens the elastic infantile vertebral bodies and ligaments allow for column elongation of up to two inches, but the spinal cord ruptures if stretched more than 1/4 inch." Real accident experience has also shown that a young child's skull can be literally ripped from its spine by the force of a crash. Yes, the body is being held in place, but the head is not. When a child is facing rearward, the head is cradled and moves in unison with the body, so that there is little or no relative motion that might pull on the connecting neck.

Keep your babies safe. We love them, too!

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