State, federal governments issue car seat guidelines

By: Eric Czarnik | C&G Newspapers | Published May 11, 2015

Auto safety experts are inviting parents to sit down and review the facts of properly securing small children in the back seat to avoid accident-related injuries.

Alyson Kechkaylo, occupant protection program coordinator for the Michigan Office of Highway Safety Planning, is also a certified child passenger safety technician.

She said Michigan law basically requires kids to be secured in a car seat until they are at least 8 years old or 4 feet 9 inches tall. But parent compliance often varies depending on the child’s age, she explained.

“Our observation studies, which we do every other year, tell us that use for children from birth to age 3 is high — it’s over 90 percent,” she said. “For booster seats (for ages) 4-7, it’s below 50 percent. We see a big drop-off when kids reach that 4- or 5-year age.”

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, four main types of car seating arrangements exist for kids, and each stage is appropriate for children as they grow and get older. Those options are rear-facing seats, front-facing seats, booster seats and seat belts.
For instance, rear-facing seats may be useful for birth up through 3 years old, the agency says.

The second seat type secures the young occupant while facing forward, and these may be recommended for children ages 1-7, according to the NHTSA.

A booster seat elevates the child so that the vehicle’s backseat seat belt fits correctly. Some booster seats also have back and neck support. Booster seats are recommended for children ages 4-12.

The NHTSA says ordinary seat belts might be acceptable for children 8 and up, though the group recommends keeping kids in their safety seats for as long as they fit the seats’ height and weight guidelines.

Children should only use an ordinary seat belt when they are big enough so that it securely straps in the thighs, chest and shoulders, the NHTSA says. It also urges parents to keep kids in the back seat through age 12.

NHTSA spokesman Derrell Lyles said in an email that the Safercar.gov website may help parents navigate their safety options.

“There are various mistakes that parents make when it comes to choosing the right child seat and booster seat,” Lyles said. “This (is) why NHTSA created a consumer-friendly safety webpage for parents and caregivers. The webpage consists of car seat recommendations, safety seat inspection stations and car seat safety ratings.”

Kechkaylo said the most important thing parents can do is look at the label on the seat to determine whether the child fits properly in it.
She said research shows that parents often fail to properly tighten the seats’ harnesses, and parents often switch safety seats to the next level too soon.

“Three-quarters of car seats have some kind of misuse when installed,” she said.

Learn more about the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s car seat tips by visiting www.safercar.gov. Find out more about the Michigan Office of Highway Safety Planning by visiting www.michigan.gov/ohsp.