Imagine a classroom filled with children. Now imagine that some of them won't return each year because of car accidents. It's a heart-wrenching image. But sadly, auto accidents have become one of the leading causes of death for young children. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has highlighted motor vehicle crashes as a major public health concern.
The leading cause of death for children and teens in the U.S. is firearms-related injuries. This surpassed car accidents in 2020.
Car accidents are the second leading cause of death for children and teens, followed by cancer and other diseases. But car accidents are still the leading cause of unintentional injury death for children and teens. These accounted for about 20% of all unintentional injury deaths in 2019.
Why Are These Accidents Happening?
Car accidents and other motor vehicle crashes involving children have a similar pattern.
Reports from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and the CDC show that many child deaths in passenger vehicle accidents occur because adults haven't correctly restrained children.
Whether it's a car crash in a busy intersection or collisions in a neighborhood, not wearing a seatbelt can be fatal.
No parent or guardian ever wants to imagine the severity of a child's injuries from an accident. But, data from several reporting systems consistently show that children who aren't wearing seatbelts sustain more severe injuries in car crashes than those restrained. Such injuries can lead to long-term physical impairments, traumatic emotional experiences, and, worst cases, fatality.
And it isn't just the drivers at risk. All passenger vehicle occupants, whether seated in the front or back, are vulnerable in a crash.
A shoulder belt ensures that the occupant remains in their seat. It minimizes the impact by spreading the force across the chest and shoulders. Without this restraint, the force of the accident can throw passengers against other objects inside the vehicle. It can also eject them. This amplifies the risk of injuries or death.
The Importance of Proper Restraint
Safety restraints like car seats, booster seats, and seat belts are necessary for children.
Depending on a child's age and size:
- Infants need rear-facing child safety seats in the back seat
- Toddlers can switch to forward-facing seats once they outgrow the rear-facing ones
- Children aged 4 to 7 typically need a booster seat until they are mature enough for a seat belt
- Older children should always wear a safety belt and sit in the rear seat until they are 13 years of age.
The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) emphasizes that the back seat is the safest place for children. The front seat's airbag can be dangerous for young children and cause serious injury.
What Can Caregivers Do?
As a caregiver, there are several ways you can practice injury prevention.
Know the Law
Child restraint laws differ from state to state. They are established based on extensive research to ensure children's safety during car travels. These laws are in place because different age groups, weights, and heights require specific types of car seats or boosters to offer protection during a collision.
- Research: Begin by visiting your state's department of motor vehicles (DMV) website or the official website of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). These sites often provide a breakdown of child restraint laws for each state.
- Community resources: Some community centers, hospitals, and local police departments offer seminars or courses on child safety in vehicles. They can give you hands-on knowledge about the law and its practical application.
A safety seat is only effective if installed correctly. An incorrectly installed car seat can lead to severe injuries. This is true even if the child is restrained.
- User manual: Start by reading the car seat or booster seat user manual. Every seat is slightly different, and the manufacturer will provide specific installation guidelines.
- Inspection stations: Many local fire and police departments offer car seat inspection services. Professionals at these stations will check if you installed your car seat correctly. They will offer guidance if it isn't.
- Online tutorials: Several reputable organizations offer video tutorials on correctly installing various types of car seats. Make sure to watch videos that correspond to your specific car seat model.
Manufacturers occasionally recall car seats due to potential safety concerns. Staying updated ensures that your child isn't sitting in a dangerous seat.
- Registration: When buying a new car seat, always register it with the manufacturer. This way, the manufacturer will tell you if there is a recall.
- NHTSA's recall list: The NHTSA maintains an updated list of recalled child safety seats. Reviewing this list will help you ensure your car seat is still safe.
- Mobile apps: Some apps notify users about product recalls, including car seats. Consider downloading one to stay informed.
Parents and caregivers can enhance the safety of their young passengers by dedicating time to understanding the laws, checking the installation of safety seats, and staying updated on recalls. It's always better to be proactive when it comes to the safety of our children.
Seek Legal Advice After an Accident
Keeping children safe in cars is a shared responsibility. Everyone, from caregivers to policymakers, should focus on child passenger safety. By understanding the importance of proper restraint use and ensuring that children are always seated safely, we can reduce fatalities and the rate of children getting injured in traffic crashes.
If your child suffers injuries due to a car accident, it's wise to consult an injury attorney. They can provide legal advice on moving forward with an injury claim to cover medical bills and other costs.