Every year around the world, nearly 1.3 million people die in collisions, and an additional 20-50 million individuals are injured or disabled as a result of a motor vehicle accident. Collisions that result in temporary short-term injuries, long-term critical injuries, and disabilities are more frequent that many drivers consider, with most traffic deaths resulting among younger adults aged 15-44 years.
As family vehicles become more “high-performance” in tandem with many states increasing the maximum speed on large inner state highways, many experts anticipate that motor vehicle collision rates will rise. Given the new safety features, automated assistance in braking and steering, as well as other technological advances, drivers are feeling safer than they ever have in their vehicles and on the road. While the safety features have started to significantly reduce injuries and improve survival rates in serious motor vehicle collisions, luxury vehicles have also contributed to a sense of invincibility on the road.
No matter what kind of car or SUV you drive, children are more at risk for serious injuries in a collision, and parents need to be aware of the legal and moral responsibilities to ensure that kids are riding safely.
Safety for Infants and Children in Motor Vehicles
When it comes to buying and using a car seat, most parents have it down to an accurate science. First, it is illegal for a child under a certain height and weight to ride in a motor vehicle without a car seat. Second, the legal charges for riding in a vehicle where a child has not been safely restrained can range from a ticket to a misdemeanor, and even a charge of child endangerment if more than one child is in the vehicle without a car seat.
In terms of car seat requirements, each state has a separate law regarding age, height, and weight restrictions that mandate the use of seatbelts, booster chairs, and car seats. However, the average requirements to prevent motor vehicle child injuries in the United States for child passenger safety include:
- Children aged 8 to under 18 years must wear a seatbelt, or travel with a certified booster (elevated) seat or car seat.
- Car seats must be installed properly, per the manufacturer’s instructions.
- Children under the age of four, who weigh less than 40lbs, should be in an approved and certified car seat.
- There must be a seatbelt for every other child who no longer requires the use of a car seat or booster seat. At the age of 18, parents are no longer responsible for a fine or ticket for any adult child who opts not to wear a seatbelt. The adult can, however, be charged for not wearing one.
- Children under the age of two and under the height of 40” should be secured in a rear-facing child restraint system.
Across most of the United States, the only exception to the minimum motor vehicle child restraint rules is during a funeral procession, where children may be riding with other family members and at a slow speed.
Crash Test Results for Children in Motor Vehicle Collisions
While riding in a car seat or secured booster seat, a child has a greatly reduced rate of injury during a motor vehicle collision. One of the most detrimental factors to car seat safety lies in the installation of the seat, per manufacturer’s instructions; it won’t work if it’s not secured properly.
However, collision testing is providing new, sophisticated data that may dramatically change the way car seats are made. Increasingly, there is a push toward zip-in jackets, which are secured to the plastic shell of the car seat. By dispersing the pressure of the collision over a wider area (a full jacket rather than car seat straps), researchers believe they can further minimize injuries.
To review some of the most recent crash test data and the impact of testing on future car seat designs, visit the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NCAP) website.
Safety Tips for Parents
Parents can be tempted to bring a lot of loose articles into the car, particularly if the trip is going to be a long one and shared with children. From snacks to drinks, tablets and plastic toys, each additional item that you add to a vehicle creates an increased risk of head trauma and potential lacerations and soft tissue injuries in the event of a collision.
However, any parent can tell you that a long car trip without snacks and some of the distractions that are needed to keep children settled is impossible. So, here are a few ways to enhance safety while riding with your children:
- Minimize the number of toys in the passenger area. Limit each child to one toy, and lock the rest of them in the trunk where they cannot become airborne in the event of a collision.
- Stop for snacks. Cups, glass bottles, plastic baby bottles, and snacks in containers are dangerous in a motor vehicle collision. Pull over for a brief “snack break” and then place drinks and snacks back safely in the trunk.
Take a quick inventory of your vehicle. Anything that is not fixed or secured can become a dangerous projectile if your car is forced to stop suddenly, as is the case with a crash scenario. What can you remove from your passenger area to make your vehicle safer for children?
For older children, parents should also have a conversation about noise levels. Kids innately do not understand the level of concentration it takes to safely drive a car; they want your attention the same way as they do at home, and they aren’t afraid to raise their voice to get it. After the age of five, it’s important to explain to kids how they can help by quietly occupying themselves while mom or dad is driving.
Change the way you think about your cabin and seating area to improve safety and reduce the risk of injury for both children and adults to ride safer.