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Local Police Specialist Agrees: Kids Safest In Rear-Facing Car Seats Until Age 2



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Local Police Specialist Agrees: Kids Safest In Rear-Facing Car Seats Until Age 2

Newtown police officers including Traffic Unit specialist Jeffrey Silver, who are trained to properly install and inspect child safety seats among the hundreds of mechanical features on vehicles they encounter, are now informing parents and caregivers of a new national recommendation about the protective accessories.

And they are also explaining that Connecticut recommendations have not caught up yet to the new federal standards.

Children should ride in rear-facing car seats longer, until they are 2 years old instead of 1, according to updated advice from the American Academy of Pediatrics and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Both agencies issued separate but consistent new recommendations March 21.

The disparity between recent changes in federal standards and the last changes to state guidelines, made in 2005, came up last week as Officer Silver provided a routine voluntary car seat inspection for local tax office staffer Cayenne Spremullo.

After removing and reinstalling Ms Spremullo’s child seat, Officer Silver reviewed the latest guidelines, as well as how to proceed when daughter Lia James outgrows her existing device.

He said both organizations say older children who have outgrown front-facing car seats should ride in booster seats until the lap-shoulder belt fits them. Booster seats help position adult seat belts properly on children’s smaller frames.

Children usually can graduate from a booster seat when their height reaches 4 feet 9 inches. And all children younger than 13 should ride in the back seat, the guidelines from both groups say.

“Parents often look forward to transitioning from one stage to the next, but these transitions should generally be delayed until they are necessary, when the child fully outgrows the limits for his or her current stage,” said Dennis Durbin, MD, FAAP, lead author of the recommendations and a pediatric emergency physician at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. “A rear-facing child safety seat does a better job of supporting the head, neck, and spine of infants and toddlers in a crash, because it distributes the force of the collision over the entire body.”

Dr Durbin said for larger children, a forward-facing seat with a harness is safer than a booster, and a belt-positioning booster seat provides better protection than a seat belt alone until the seat belt fits correctly.

While the rate of deaths in motor vehicle crashes in children under age 16 has decreased substantially — dropping 45 percent between 1997 and 2009 — it is still the leading cause of death for children ages 4 and older. Counting children and teens up to age 21, there are more than 5,000 deaths each year. Fatalities are just the tip of the iceberg; for every fatality, roughly 18 children are hospitalized and more than 400 are injured seriously enough to require medical treatment.

The advice may seem extreme to some parents, who may imagine trouble convincing older elementary school kids — as old as 12 — to use booster seats. But it’s based on evidence from crashes. For older children, poorly fitting seat belts can cause abdominal and spine injuries in a crash.

One-year-olds are five times less likely to be injured in a crash if they are in a rear-facing car seat than a forward-facing seat, according to a 2007 analysis of five years of US crash data. Put another way, over 15 years, an estimated 1,000 children injured in forward-facing seats might not have been hurt if they had been in a car seat facing the back, said Dr Durbin.

Toddlers have relatively large heads and small necks. In a front-facing car seat, the force of a crash can jerk the child’s head causing spinal cord injuries.

Car seats have recommended weights printed on them. If a 1-year-old outweighs the recommendation of an infant seat, parents should switch to a different rear-facing car seat that accommodates the heavier weight until they turn 2, the pediatricians group says.

Luckily for parents, most car seat makers have increased the amount of weight the seats can hold. This year, about half of infant rear-facing seats accommodate up to 30 pounds, Durbin said. Ten years ago, rear-facing car seats topped out at children weighing 22 pounds.

But Officer Silver said getting the installation correct is a critical factor.

“Well over half of the seats I inspect are installed improperly,” the Newtown officer said. “And I check sometimes dozens of seats every week, definitely hundreds each year.”

In one recent case, the officer was driving on South Main Street when he noticed a child behind the driver’s seat in an oncoming vehicle standing up. After turning around and flagging down the driver, he discovered the strap securing the child seat to the car was only strung through the seat cover and not the proper anchor points on the seat itself, permitting the child to move around freely.

“So I took it all apart right there, and re-installed it explaining to the mom how to do it properly,” he recalled.

Officer Silver and three other local officers undergo four days of specialized training along with a biannual recertification to maintain an expert level of knowledge about car safety seats and boosters.

The American Academy of Pediatrics’ recommendations appear in the most recent journal Pediatrics. Associated Press content was used in this report.

Installation Tips For Rear-Facing Seats

When using a rear-facing seat, keep the following in mind:

*Place the harnesses in your rear-facing seat in slots that are at or below your baby’s shoulders.

*Ensure that the harness is snug and that the harness clip is positioned at the midchest level.

*Make sure the car safety seat is installed tightly in the vehicle. If you can move the seat at the belt path more than an inch side to side or front to back, it’s not tight enough.

*Never place a rear-facing car safety seat in the front seat of a vehicle that has an active front passenger air bag. If the air bag inflates, it will hit the back of the car safety seat, right where your baby’s head is, and could cause serious injury or death.

*Be sure you know what kind of seat belts your vehicle has. Some seat belts need locking clips to keep the belt locked into position. Locking clips come with most new car safety seats. If you’re not sure, check the owner’s manual that came with your vehicle. Locking clips are not needed in most newer vehicles, and some seats have built-in lock-offs to lock the belt.

*If you are using a convertible or 3-in-1 seat in the rear-facing position, make sure the seat belt is routed through the correct belt path. Check the instructions that came with the car safety seat to be sure.

*If your vehicle was made after 2002, it may come with the latch system, which is used to secure car safety seats.

*Make sure the seat is at the correct angle so your infant’s head does not flop forward. Many seats have angle indicators or adjusters that can help prevent this. If your seat does not have an angle adjuster, tilt the car safety seat back by putting a rolled towel or other firm padding (such as a pool noodle) under the base near the point where the back and bottom of the vehicle seat meet.

Still having trouble? There may be a certified child passenger safety (CPS) technician in your area who can help. Find a certified CPS technician. Lists of certified CPS technicians and child seat fitting stations are available at http://seatcheck.org or call 866-SEATCHECK (866-732-8243)

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