The leading cause of death for children under the age of 18 in the United States is motor vehicle accidents, and many of these deaths are preventable. There are several steps that drivers can take to make rides safer, for themselves and for their children.
The Size of the Problem
A CDC study found that over 600,000 children between the ages of 0 and 12 rode in vehicles, at least one time, without a car seat, booster seat or seat belt. This is a dangerous proposition, since more than 600 children died in car accidents in 2013, and over 120,000 were injured. Close to 40% of fatal accidents involved children who were not buckled up. Small steps can be taken to prevent such accidents.
The Importance of Age-Appropriateness
By restraining children in car seats, booster seats and seat belts that are appropriate for their age, weight and height, the risk of serious and fatal injuries is greatly reduced. In fact, car seat use reduces the risk of death in infants less than one year old by 71%. Infants should remain in a rear-facing car seat, in the back seat of the vehicle, until they are at least 20 pounds and one year of age and longer if possible.
Car seats should never be placed in front of an active airbag and should always remain in the back seat. Unless recommended by a manufacturer, toys, mirrors and accessories should not be attached to an infant car seat, as they can cause injury in an accident or quick-stop.
Booster seats should be used for children ages 4-8, until seat belts fit properly. Seat belts should always be used for older children and adults. In Illinois, the Child Passenger Protection Act requires that all children under the age of 8 utilize an appropriate safety restraint system. Booster seats should be used with a lap and shoulder belt.
Seat belt use decreases the risk of death in car accidents by approximately 50%. For additional safety, children should ride in the back of the vehicle, in the middle seat, whenever possible.
Safety is highly dependent on following manufacturers’ instructions and choosing restraints that are designed for the weight and height of a child. When a child safety device is misused, it reduces the effectiveness. While many cars incorporate special safety features, like airbags, some of these are meant for older passengers and can actually injure a child.
Used safety restraint systems are not always safe, and a car seat that is older than 6 years old should never be used. It’s a good idea to register a car seat, so that any recall notifications are promptly received.
In Illinois, the Secretary of State’s office provides educational programs designed to protect child passengers. Safety fitting stations are available throughout the state and by request at driver services facilities.
When transporting children of any age, drivers should take note when certain items are stored inside of a vehicle’s trunk. Large or small, items should be properly secured in a trunk, when possible, so that they do not turn into projectiles during a sudden stop or accident. As popular as electronic devices like DVD players and game systems have become, they should not be used if they lead to driver distraction, or could cause injury in an accident.
Lead by Example
Restraint use is often determined by the adult driver’s seat belt use. Approximately 40% of unrestrained drivers also had children that were not buckled up. One in 5 child passenger deaths involved drunk driving and 65% of these deaths were caused by the child’s driver.
Adults should use seat belts, even for short rides, and require children in the vehicle to do the same. They should also remain alert and never drive while drunk or fatigued. Electronic devices should be put away during the drive to reduce the risk of distracted driving, which is another major cause of motor vehicle injuries. Small steps can make a big impact, when it comes to child safety.
It is against the law for any adult to willfully endanger the life or health of a child. Adults who transport children are responsible for ensuring that they are safe and properly restrained. Children under the age of 6 may not be left unattended in a motor vehicle, without being accompanied by a person aged 14 or older, for longer than 10 minutes.
Violations of these child safety laws are considered a Class A misdemeanor and could result in up to one year in jail along with a $2,500 fine. Subsequent violations are considered felonies, with prison terms ranging from two to ten years and fines of up to $25,000.
Adhering to safety regulations and following the manufacturers’ instructions for safety products is a vital component to ensuring child motor vehicle safety.