By Jayne O'Donnell
I know, I know. Getting a 6-year-old
who has been riding in the car like a "big girl" to go back to
a child seat would be no easy task. But now there's considerable
evidence that keeping older kids in booster seats until they reach
small-adult size reduces injuries and saves lives.
Still, the National Highway Traffic
Safety Administration says fewer than 7 percent of the 20 million
U.S. children ages 4 to 8 are riding in booster seats. That's
a frightening statistic when you consider that more than 500 children
in this age group are killed in car accidents each year, and thousands
more are injured. Safety experts say many of the deaths and injuries
could be prevented by the proper use of booster seats.
Understanding the Necessity
When children wear adult safety belts too soon, their internal
organs can be injured if the belts ride up and slice into their
stomachs in a crash. If shoulder belts are put behind their backs,
their torsos can jackknife forward, increasing the chance of head
and abdominal injuries. More than 80 percent of 4- to 8-year-old
passengers in 30,000 car crashes studied by Children's Hospital
of Philadelphia and State Farm Insurance were improperly restrained
in adult-size safety belts. And the results were often tragic.
Autumn Alexander Skeen lost her
4-year-old son in a crash when an adult seat belt failed to keep
him inside the car. Skeen is now a spokeswoman for Ford Motor
Company's educational campaign promoting booster-seat use. "No
parent should ever know the pain of losing a child, especially
if death or injury is easily preventable," Skeen says.
A Simple Solution
Booster seats raise children up off the seat to position them
in adult belts properly. These special seats are recommended for
kids who weigh 40 to 80 pounds and are intended for use in the
back seat of vehicles that have three-point lap/shoulder belts.
(Remember, children younger than 13 should never ride up front
in a car that has front air bags.) Children can usually safely
use adult belts in the back seat once they reach a height of four
feet nine inches and weigh 80 pounds.
Booster seats are available at
many major department stores and at Web sites and superstores
that carry children's products. Your vehicle's manufacturer or
your insurance company may also be able to make suggestions about
where to buy a booster seat in your neighborhood. Some insurance
and car companies even have special programs that offer the seats
for free or at a discount.
ClubMom's AutoPro, Jayne O'Donnell,
is a Washington, D.C.-based reporter (and new mom!) whose automotive
expertise and investigative reporting skills have helped break
some of the biggest auto-safety stories of the past several years.
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