Child Passenger Safety

You’re happily planning for the arrival of your new baby—you’ve painted the nursery, you have the crib set up, you’ve washed all the little sleepers and onesies, and you have binkies, bottles, and bouncy seats ready and waiting.  You’ve bought a car seat that has the cutest pattern, which perfectly matches your car’s upholstery.  You think you’re all set for your little one’s arrival, until you try to fit that adorable car seat into your car.  For starters, there seem to be too many buckles and straps.  Where do they all go?  You’ve read the instruction book, but it still doesn’t make sense to you.  And to top it all off, the seat only fits into your car if you prop it at an impossibly steep angle.  Your little angel couldn’t possibly be safe in this, could she?

Choosing and installing a car seat can be one of the most important parts of getting ready for your new baby, and an important part of your baby’s transition from infant to toddler and from toddler to preschooler.  That’s because motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death and injury for children over the age of 1.  Yet a seemingly simple task can be surprisingly complicated.

Of all the children under the age of four who were killed as passengers in motor vehicle crashes in Ohio from 2000 through 2005, 1 in every 4 was not restrained in a car seat.  Even more disturbing, only 7% of the children aged 4 to 7 who were killed in crashes were in booster seats, which help seat belts fit properly on small bodies, and more than half of children killed were not even wearing seat belts.  Because of their small size and unique physiologies, young children are at risk of injury even in low-speed crashes, where adults may walk away unscathed.

Properly used car seats are the single best means of protecting infants and toddlers in motor vehicle crashes, yet research shows that 4 out of 5 car seats are used incorrectly.  “When car seats are not secured properly in vehicles, children are placed in seats that are inappropriate for their age and weight, or children are not belted correctly in their seats, it places children at real risk of injury or death in a crash,” says Thomas Vilt, Child Passenger Safety Coordinator for the Rainbow Babies & Children’s Hospital Injury Prevention Center.  Puzzling directions, a huge variety of seats on the market, and a wide array of vehicles and seat belt systems can add up to major confusion for parents.  Rainbow’s Injury Prevention Center works to protect child passengers by providing assistance for families in choosing and installing car seats.

Rainbow offers a free Car Seat Fit Stop at the hospital’s main campus in University Circle, where parents and caregivers can get help in choosing a car seat that is appropriate for their child’s age and weight and have car seats checked for correct installation.  During 2006, nearly 700 car seats were checked at Rainbow’s Car Seat Fit Stop.  “Picking out a car seat seems like any easy job,” says Vilt, “until you walk into the store and see row after row of different seats, all of different sizes and styles.”   

“People often pick out car seats because they like the pattern of the fabric,” notes  Vilt, “without considering other issues like whether the child is the right age and weight for the seat, how the seat will fit in their vehicle, or how quickly the child will outgrow the seat and need a new one.”  Experts at Rainbow’s Car Seat Fit Stop can help walk parents through these important decisions—whether it is picking out the first car seat for a new arrival, deciding when it is appropriate to turn a rear-facing infant forward facing, or making the transition out of car seats into booster seats or seat belts.

The Rainbow Injury Prevention Center also offers low-cost car seat distribution classes for income-qualified families, infant seat classes that help expectant parents plan ahead for their little one’s arrival, and car seat check up events throughout a multi-county region.  During 2006, the Center held 23 child safety seat checkup events in Northeast Ohio, checking 557 child restraints. 

To help ensure that parents can get help with child restraint questions in their own communities, the Rainbow Injury Prevention Center also operates a Regional Child Passenger Safety (CPS) Program that oversees CPS activities in five counties.  With the help of the national Safe Kids Buckle Up program, Rainbow regularly holds Child Passenger Safety Technician training courses for local fire, EMS, law enforcement, hospital and public health personnel.  Individuals who pass this nationally certified curriculum are qualified to provide parents and caregivers with expert advice in choosing and installing car seats.  Rainbow also conducts refresher courses so CPS technicians can stay up-to-date on the latest developments.  During 2006, Rainbow trained 62 new nationally certified child passenger safety technicians in the Greater Cleveland area.

The Rainbow Injury Prevention Center is dedicated to protecting child passengers throughout Northeast Ohio by aiding parents and caregivers in making important decisions about how best to restrain their child passengers, providing assistance with properly using and installing car seats, and working to ensure that all families—regardless of their financial circumstances—have access to the resources they need to help their children travel safely.  As Tom Vilt, coordinator of Rainbow’s Car Seat Fit Stop puts it, “When I work with a family I certainly hope they’ll never have the occasion to put their child’s car seat to the test in a real car crash, but when a family leaves our Fit Stop, I know I’ve done everything possible to keep that child safe.”

If you have questions about how best to protect your little traveler, or need help with installing a car seat, call the Rainbow Injury Prevention Center at 216-983-1110.