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Published on November 09, 2018

Jenna Reiman and her children

Keeping Kids Safe In Cars

Parents always want to keep their children safe, but they don’t know what they don’t know.

That’s why it’s important to know the facts about car seats and kids’ safety.

For kids 14 and younger, unintentional or accidental injury is the leading cause of death. Proper car seat fit and use can make all the difference. That’s what drives the passion of Kate Kunz, LPNC, who serves as coordinator for Safe Kids North Central led by Avera St. Anthony’s Hospital in O’Neill, Neb. She helps parents make sure their kids are safe in the vehicle, no matter their age.

“Age, weight and maturity are all factors when it comes to proper fit for kids in car seats,” said Kunz, who is also a nurse with Avera Medical Group O’Neill. “There are specific requirements for each manufacturer of car seats as well as state laws. When we do our inspections to help parents, we want to make them aware of the best practices.”

Rear-Facing is Best

About 90 percent of car seats that technicians inspect are not installed correctly. This fact alone leads to programs such as Safe Kids Nebraska, which works to fix those numbers.

One of the key recommendations is the use of rear-facing seats as long as guidelines allow.

“From birth to age 2, depending on height and weight, rear-facing, back-seat installed seats are the best approach for children,” Kunz said. “The harness should be snug and flat against their chest, and at or below shoulder level. The clip should be at armpit level.”

She added that even though it may seem OK, infants should not sleep in car seats.

“There’s a danger with an infant getting out of position in the seat and having that body position closing an airway,” said Kunz. “We remind all caregivers of this danger – it’s often overlooked.”

Seat Fit for Vehicle

When placing any child seat in a vehicle, there should be less than one inch of movement between at the connection-points between the seatbelt and the child seat itself.

“It’s easy for a parent to not realize these facts, and one of the reasons we host our events,” Kunz said. “They may not realize how to lock out the vehicle’s seatbelts themselves or how to best set up their child seat for optimal safety.”

Other considerations, such as unsecured items in the vehicle, or the importance of having everyone in seat belts, also need to be addressed to keep the entire family safe and secure. There are cultural considerations as well.

“We remind all parents that front seats are never a good place for a child seat because air bags are deadly to children,” she said. “We also teach parents who think holding a child is the best choice that it is not. Sometimes we have to explain some basics, in accordance with state law, for people who are new to our area.”

Nebraska recently changed its state law to that all children 8 and younger must ride in motor vehicles correctly secured, in an approved child safety seat or belt-positioning booster, and that kids in that age-range must ride in the back seat, as long as it is equipped with seat belts. Children age 2 and younger should ride in rear-facing car seats, until they reach the maximum height and weight limits established by the seat’s manufacturer.

South Dakota, Iowa and Minnesota laws all require rear-facing car seats for kids from birth to age 2, in compliance with manufacturers’ guidelines. Other points on the state laws include:

  • Minnesota: A child who is both younger than age 8 and shorter than 4 feet 9 inches is required to be fastened in a child safety seat that meets federal safety standards. Children cannot use seat belts alone until they are age 8, or 4 feet 9 inches tall.
  • Iowa: A child younger than 1 year old who weighs less than 20 pounds must be secured in a rear-facing child restraint system, and children 6 and younger must be secured in a safety seat or booster seat; children between 6 and 11 years old must be secured in a child restraint system or by a safety belt.
  • South Dakota: All kids younger than 5 years old and who weigh less than 40 pounds must ride in federally approved car seat or booster. All kids 17 years old and younger must use a seat belt if they are not seated in a safety seat or booster.

“The specific seat is important, as some are for infants, roughly 4 pounds through 35 pounds, and other convertible seats are appropriate for older, heavier children,” Kunz said. “When kids reach about kindergarten age, they may be the right height and weight to go from a child seat to a belt-positioning booster seat. Those boosters may be needed until as old as age 12, depending again on weight and height. All seatbelts are designed for adults, so proper fit is critical.”

Since there is variability in height, weight and the type of seat used, parents can benefit from using resources available to ensure the safest possible vehicular environment for their kids. Safe Kids Worldwide includes information on local inspection centers.

“Education is the critical part," said Kunz. "But that sometimes is missing. There are a lot of good resources for inspection and to help all parents know the basics."

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