Tuesday, November 04, 2014

Ninety-Three Percent

That's how many newborns going home from the hospital for the first time are buckled into their carseats incorrectly, according to the most recent data.

Based on what I have seen, I don't believe the statistics for older children are a whole lot better.

It is not a rookie mistake: I have seen first-time parents misusing carseats...and I have also seen parents of six kids misusing carseats.

And it is not just newborns: I have seen brand-new babies buckled incorrectly...and I have also seen kids turned forward-facing way too early, and kids in boosters way too early, and kids out of boosters riding in the front seat way too early.

Think I am overly anal-retentive about carseat safety? Think about this:
"...car crashes are the leading cause of death for children 1 to 15 years of age, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention."
Yes, when you were a kid, you rode lying stretched out across the bench seat in the back of the van. Yes, when your mom was a kid, they put her in a basket on the floorboard. Yes, when Grandma was a kid she just sat on the luggage rack and held on tight. But when we know better, we do better.  Knowledge and technology and safety standards have all improved--WHY wouldn't we take advantage of these advancements to keep our kids safer on the road?

You're not stupid if you're doing it wrong. You're the majority! And there is NO SHAME in asking for help. Seriously, there are a hundred variables. Every seat is different, every car is different; rear-facing is different from forward-facing is different from belt-positioning booster is different from small booster. It's enough to make anyone's head spin.

Confession: Elijah was one of those newborns. I absolutely cringe when I look at the pictures of him in his carseat, coming home from the hospital. He was buckled nice and snug, but the seat (despite being labeled as appropriate for newborns) was too big for him; the harness slots didn't go low enough. And it was so hard to get a good installation in that seat when rear-facing, I'm sure it wouldn't have passed a check. I thought I knew about carseat safety! But I have been one of the parents getting it wrong. 

I have learned a lot since then, and I'm thankful for all the passionate Child Passenger Safety Technicians who work tirelessly to distribute good information online. Yet I still struggle to know what to do when I see parents, in real life or in photos posted on Facebook, using carseats incorrectly. No one likes to be told "you're doing it wrong," and no matter how gently and carefully I speak, no matter how much my heart is humbly and sincerely desiring to help as I was helped, people think they are being judged and get angry and defensive (no, I am not speaking hypothetically).

So for all the times I lack the courage to speak up to the parents of kids who are buckled too loosely or in the wrong kind of seat, I will keep posting links on Facebook, and I will spread the word here. Because 93 percent is too many.

Please, don't let your pride or self-sufficiency or over-confidence or lack of information get in the way of your child's safety.
  • Find a CPST in your area and find out in person whether your seat is correctly installed in your vehicle. 
  • Review the owner's manual for your seat (they're all easily located online, if you've lost the paper copy). 
And make sure you know about and are avoiding the most common mistakes. The top two are the ones I see most obviously and often:   
  • harness too loose (you should not be able to pinch any slack--the right fit "is snugger than most think it should be," according to the study's presenter) 
  • chest clip too low (it should be at armpit level--which is "higher than most families feel it should be," said Dr. Hoffman) 
Take a moment to look at these photos for clear "correct" and "incorrect" examples of these and other mistakes. As the author of that post notes:

"...it’s OKAY if you’ve got something wrong. We all have screwed up at some point. ...It’s not a problem if you make mistakes…when it becomes a problem is when you’d rather be right than DO right, at the cost of your child’s life."

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