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Research Says Parents Struggle With Proper Child Seat Use

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CPS Week Seat Check Event - Poster 2Although a new study finds that adults have slightly improved in the proper use of child safety seats in cars, the majority of adults are not using a key safety feature. That feature is a child car seat’s top tether, a strap at the top of a child seat that hooks to a tether anchor in a vehicle and helps reduce the forward movement of a child’s head in an accident.

One of the key findings of the Safe Kids USA study, which was released on Thursday, is that fewer than one third of forward-facing child seats that arrive at seat check events used a top tether. In addition, those people who did use the top tether on those seats used it properly only 59% of the time. Top tethers are mostly used on forward-facing seats for children under 40-48 pounds.

Cheryl Jensen of The New York Times blog Wheels, writes:

‘The goal is to reduce the risk of a head strike or spinal cord injury,’ said Lorrie Walker, a technical adviser and training manager for Safe Kids USA and one of the study’s co-authors, in an interview.

Safety-seat manufacturers must build their products to suit federal standards relating to how far a child’s head should be allowed to move forward in a crash. According to these standards, with a top tether in use, the head should not pitch forward more than 28 inches. When a top tether is not used, the head should pitch forward no more than 32 inches.

However, in a small car, rear space can be limited. If the car seat itself or the internal harness of the car seat is loose, the child may pitch forward far enough to hit the front seat of the car, Ms. Walker explained.

“As a nation, we must improve child safety in vehicles by adopting use of the top tether that is on virtually all forward-facing car seats and can be attached to anchors in every car made after 1999,” said Torine Creppy, Executive Director of Safe Kids Buckle Up (SKBU), Safe Kids USA’s multifaceted child passenger safety program.

The Safe Kids USA study also found that parents still struggle with the installation and use of infant seats without a base, and that there is an ongoing need to educate parents about how to transition among seat types. It is best for parents to keep their children in the appropriate type of car seat for as long as possible and not move them too quickly to another type. The American Academy of Pediatrics, for example, recommends that children ride in rear-facing seats until they are at least two years old.

“I’m encouraged that some parents recognize that the greatest safety benefits are achieved when they follow the latest guidelines on when to move kids from rear-facing to forward-facing seats; forward-facing to boosters, and from boosters into adult safety belts,” said Deborah Hersman, Chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board.

The Safe Kids USA study is the largest of its kind, and uses data collected in 79,000 child safety seat inspections conducted over the course of a year. It was released in conjunction with National Child Passenger Safety Week, which takes place from September 18-24. During that week, Safe Kids USA will host more than 400 car seat checkup events across the U.S. You can find the times and locations of those events at:

Safe Kids USA is part of Safe Kids Worldwide, a global network of organizations whose mission is to prevent unintentional childhood injury, the leading cause of death and disability to children ages 1 to 14.

Image by National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, used under Fair Use: Reporting.


One Response to “Research Says Parents Struggle With Proper Child Seat Use”


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