You’re just going to the grocery store or around the block. A short trip. Slow speeds. Not much traffic. So it’s a huge temptation to not buckle-in your child. It’s such a hassle to fiddle with all the straps and with your child’s resistance. The risk, you figure, is really small.
You’re not alone. A recent study by Safe Kids Worldwide found that 1 in 4 parents admits to driving without buckling their 10-and-under children into a car seat or booster seat. This survey of over 1000 parents found that more affluent parents and younger parents were most likely to omit this crucial safety step.
It’s true that the number of children dying in car crashes has dropped by 58% since 1987 – a wonderful accomplishment. It’s far less likely than it used to be that you know of or have heard of a child crash fatality. But this drop is not because driving is so much safer than before. It’s because more parents than before take the time to secure their children safely. Parents whose children are unsecured inside a car expose their kids to the same, elevated risk of severe injury and death as existed in generations past.
Car accidents are still a leading cause of death in children. In 2011 679 children aged 12 and under died in crashes. Of these, one-third were unrestrained inside the car. Older kids involved in fatal car crashes were more likely to be unrestrained or improperly restrained than younger children.
Yes, it’s fun to “ride shotgun” in the front passenger seat. Yes, sitting in a booster seat makes an older child feel he’s being treated like a baby. But children who are still not adult-sized can be injured or killed by airbag impacts. Everyone else in the car might walk away but the under-12 child sitting in the wrong place or at the wrong height may suffer great harm.
Naturally, one exception leads to many more. Every parent knows that permitting a child to ride improperly secured even once makes it more likely she’ll ask for the same “privilege” again. It’s more likely a younger sibling will think riding unrestrained is admirable. It makes the task of buckling everyone in that much harder. Here’s what to do:
- Make certain you and other adults buckle seat belts for every trip, even short ones. No exceptions.
- Do not put the car in gear until everyone in the car is properly secured. Pull over and stop driving if someone disengages his restraint system while the car is in motion.
- Always position children in the back seat. Use car seats or boosters appropriate to the age and size of the child.
- Make certain your child’s car seat or booster is properly secured inside the car.
- Insist that everyone with whom your child rides – friends, car pools, family members – always buckle children in.
- If driving during the night, resist the temptation to let children sleep on the floor of the car or in fully-reclined seats without proper buckling-in.
Never make an exception to the all-buckled-in rule. No ride is so short that there is no risk of an accident. According to Partners for Child Passenger Safety, 80% of crashes involving children occur within 20 minutes of home and at speeds less than 45 mph. Riding in the country is no guarantee of safety. In fact, over half of fatal accidents happen in rural areas, according to the National Highway Safety Council.
There are so many dangers over which parents have no control. It makes sense to exercise the little control we have. Making certain children are fully secured inside a car is a detail that should never be overlooked.
© 2013, Patricia Nan Anderson. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Ask for Dr. Anderson’s new book, Developmentally Appropriate Parenting, at your favorite bookstore.