...Cash registers ringing with the sales of new lunch boxes, folders, and endless boxes of pencils?
...Parents desperately trying (and mostly failing) to get their children back into a bedtime routine?
...Children begging for just one more trip to the beach in a frantic attempt at fitting in more summer activities?
Ah, yes. The sounds of another summer winding down.
There's a lot to take care of, I know. On top of the previously mentioned pencils, folders, and lunch boxes, there's a whole new schedule to work out: who will run the car pool this year? Who will be in charge of drop off and pick up? And who's going to pay the unsung heroes of our day - Latchkey workers?
One thing I've noticed during the school year hubbub is the lack of child restraints at drop off and pick up. I can't help it, it's ingrained in me. Firefighters assess fire risk everywhere they go, I eagle-eye car seats. It's a compulsion but hey, at least I'm honest?
In an effort to curb this potentially dangerous choice, I've decided to make a list of the most common mistakes that I and other CPSTs have spotted as well as solutions for the problems. These are presented in no particular order.
- Children under 13 in the front seat.
This is something I see fairly often when I'm dropping my daughter off at school. Elementary aged children should never ride in the front seat of any vehicle if it can be helped. Air bags are designed to protect adult passengers in a crash. They expel with an incredible amount of force, and the skeletal structure of a child under 13 just cannot withstand it.
Q: So what about when all the back seats are filled? What should I do if I run out of seats in the back for the children I have to transport?
A: If you must put a child in the front seat, move the seat as far back as possible - away from the air bag. Make sure the child is mature enough to know that they must sit still in the seat for the entire ride to school - no fidding with the belt or leaning forward to play with the radio dials. If you drive a pickup truck, sometimes you can disable the airbag using the vehicle's key. Make sure to turn it back on for adult passengers, though!
- Kids in the wrong seat for their maturity level.
I get it. It's a pain in the neck to have to buckle up a kid in a harness when you have the entire PTA membership staring you down for holding up the line. But safety should always come first. Always. Booster seats are a very safe option for most kids, but all too often they're a step that's skipped completely.
Q: How do I know when it's safe to switch my child to a booster seat?
A: This is an answer that's going to be different for every child. If you know they will sit still in the car and not mess with the shoulder belt (by moving it behind their arm, for instance), and you can see that the booster provides a good fit on the child, then it's safe for them to use a booster. Using a booster for short trips is different than using one for long drives, however, so keep in mind that your child must remain upright the entire time for it to be safe. Not so difficult for the 10 minute drive to school, but it can be a little trickier when driving across the state. Most kids are not ready to be boostered full time until they are at least 6 years old.
Hat tip: The Car Seat Lady
Q: Why is booster fit so important?
A: I'm glad you asked! Booster fit is important because the seat belt can actually cause injuries if it doesn't fit the way it's supposed to: the lap belt must lay high across the tops of the child's thighs (at the hips), and the shoulder belt should stay between the curve of their shoulder and their neck. If the lap belt is too low it can cause what's known as "submarining" - when the child's body slips underneath the belt in an impact. If the lap belt is too high the sensitive internal organs are put at risk of trauma and bleeding. Belt fit: it's really that important.
- Children not using boosters at all - or worse, unrestrained.
This is the worst for me to witness. I understand the reasons why caregivers forego boosters and yet I can't unknow what I know about crashes. If you've heard it once you've heard it a hundred times: "It's just a quick trip!"
Hat tip: The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia85% of crashes occur within 20 minutes from home.
Children who are in a booster seat in the back seat of a vehicle are 45% less likely to be injured in a crash than those riding with just a seat belt alone.
Q: Alright, I'm sold. But a booster seat is not in the budget right now, where can I get one?
A: SafeKids is the recipient of generous grant funding from the government. This organization can provide low-to-no cost booster and car seats for parents in need. Check with your local coalition for more information.
Please do not get a used restraint from someone you do not know and trust. Without knowing the full history of a child restraint you just can't say for certain that it will do its job.
Q: None of my child's peers are using boosters... how can I keep her safe while keeping her from being teased?
A: Thankfully there are a few options for instances such as this! The Bubblebum booster seat is a neat little thing that easily inflates to full size, making it a great option for carrying to and from carpool vehicles, trying to fit children three across in a back seat, and, yes - nobody can see it from the outside of the car.
The Safety1st Incognito is a super stealthy option as well (hence its name). You can get it in different colors to match the interior of your vehicle and its low-profile will provide discreet protection. (Please note that this seat has a weight minimum of 60lbs to use.)
The MiFold is super nifty, but can be tricky for younger kids. This would be best suited for older children who take direction well and can buckle themselves with no help from an adult.
You could also go the complete opposite direction and instead of going stealthy, go LOUD and proud! Let them choose a wild, bright print that they'll be proud to sit in. Explain why the booster seat is necessary and involve them in the process of choosing a new one. Bigger kids really want to feel as though they're heard and respected - who doesn't? Allow them to be a part of the process and you may just find that they'll teach their friends - and maybe their friends parents - a thing or two about staying safe in the car