The National Highway and Transportation Administration, along with the American Academy of Pediatrics recently announced new guidelines for parents to follow when strapping their children into car seats. Child passenger safety technician and maternal child care nurse Stephanie Regier spends three days each week training parents in car seat safety. She knows how important using a car seat properly can be.
Regier, of rural Goessel, is a registered nurse at Newton Medical Center. A big part of her job is instructing new parents like Matthew Allen and Brittany Long of Hillsboro and Wichita, how to take their new daughter, Claire Pauline Allen, born on Mother’s Day, safely home.
“I’ve been doing this about 10 years now,” Regier said. “Probably the biggest problems I see are parents who don’t strap their children in tight enough, some who use both the latch and the seat belt (people should use one or the other, not both), and turning the seat forward too soon.”
The newest AAP guidelines advise parents to keep children in rear-facing car seats until they reach the age of 2. This is a change from 1 year and 20 lbs. as the minimum for flipping the seat around.
“The most common car crash is with frontal impact,” Regier said. “This puts the entire force of the crash on the head and neck of the child if the car seat is facing forward. If facing back, the car seat absorbs and spread the force, allowing the harness to lessen the damage.”
Regier said that longer-legged 2-year-olds might not fit as well into rear-facing car seats, but it was still a very good safety recommendation.
“Kids can easily bend their legs to get comfortable,” she said. “If they were to be in a crash, where would a parent prefer an injury to happen, the legs or the head? I think we all know it is of upmost importance to protect their fragile heads.”
While explaining the meaning of poundage labels, safety precautions, types of latches and clips, locking devices and appropriate angles, Regier told Allen that installing a car seat was not rocket science, but there was more to it than most people thought.
“A lot of people just come in here and think they can do it how they want,” she said. “But it has to be installed according to the manufacturers’ guidelines or it won’t be safe.”
Allen said it was harder than he thought it would be to get the seat base fit in at the correct angle.
“I’ve never done this before, so this is all new,” he said. “But I am glad our baby girl will be safe.”
For any car seat to do its job, it must be installed and used properly, as well as adjusted to the child correctly.
Regier said she conducted several car seat safety inspections and planned community car seat check events regularly.
“The car seat events are all volunteer on the part of parents who want to bring in their car seats and see if they are doing it right,” she said. “There are no penalties or fines for someone who doesn’t have the right seat or clips. We just try to make everyone aware of the guidelines and what they need to do to keep their children safe. That is what is important.”
The most recent guidelines include the following points.
- Child under 1 year: always put child in rear-facing car seat.
- Child 1-3 years: keep in rear-facing car seat until he or she reaches the top height or weight limit allowed by car seat manufacturer.
- Child 4-7 years: keep in forward-facing car seat with a harness until he or she reaches the top height or weight limit allowed by car seat manufacturer.
- Child 8-12 years: keep in booster seat until he or she is big enough to fit in a seat belt properly. The lap belt must lie snugly across the upper thighs, not the stomach. The shoulder belt should lie snug across the shoulder and chest and not cross the neck or face.
- Keep child in back seat at least through age 12.