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Keeping your kids safe in the car

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Keeping your kids safe in the car

Post by AlleyRose on Fri Apr 04, 2014 8:54 pm

Your kids might not like it, but new guidelines recommend keeping children in car restraints for longer, which would see many in booster seats until 12.

Most parents will do anything to keep their children safe. But when it comes to what is possibly the most dangerous thing we do with our children – drive with them in a car – we could to be putting them at risk of injury almost every day.
Car accidents are the most common cause of death and injury for children under 14. Every year, 80 children die and another 3000 are left with serious injuries. At greatest risk of serious injury are children between the ages of seven and 12, who no longer use child restraints such as car seats or boosters when travelling in a car.
This is why [url= Practice Child Restraint Guidelines_0.pdf]new guidelines on child restraints when travelling in cars[/url], developed by Neuroscience Research Australia and Kidsafe, are recommending children under 12, unless they reach a minimum height, use booster seats and sit only in the back seat.
The guidelines, approved by the National Health and Medical Research Council, are the first national recommendations to outline consistent evidence-based advice on child restraints. Other recommendations include:

  • keeping infants in rear-facing car restraints for as long as possible,

  • ensuring children using booster seats or adult seats use only lap-sash belts,

  • ensuring all child restraints are installed properly and regulary checked. (The guidelines include [url= restraint guidelines brochure.pdf]10 essential steps[/url].)

Professor Lynne Bilston is based at Neuroscience Research Australia and is lead author of the guidelines. She studies car crashes and the injuries they cause in young passengers, and says many parents are confused about what types of restraints children need to use at different ages and stages.
"There are certainly various things that people are told to do at times by different people that certainly have no evidence behind them or they are direct contradiction of what the evidence actually says," Bilston says.
Under 12s: in a booster, in the back
Laws vary between states and territories but in most places, children are legally required to use booster seats until the age of seven. This means the majority of children move out of a booster into an adult seat around seven, even though children at this age aren't physically big enough to use adult seat belts safely.
"Because their legs aren't long enough they slouch down until their knees bend in front of the seat, and that means that their back is not upright against the back of the seat and the seat belt – the lap belt – instead of sitting over the hip bones, it actually rides up and sits across the abdomen," Bilston says.
"So in a crash they go further underneath that seat belt and most of the force of the crash ends up in their abdomen and they end up with serious abdominal injuries, and in more severe crashes they end up with spinal injuries as well."
It's also recommended that children younger than 12 sit only in the back seat due to the risks posed by airbags.
"The issue with air bags is that they come out at 160 to 200 kilometres an hour," Bilston says, "With an adult, the seat belt and the air bag are designed to work together. But with a child, because they are shorter, think of the arc that the head goes through, they can actually be in the line of the airbag... and so you can get the air bag inflate under the chin and force the head back. And you want to make sure that doesn't happen."
Bilston says if you cannot avoid having a younger child in the front seat, then ensure the seat is as far back as possible so the child is further away from the airbag.
Five-step test
The guidelines, suggest children remain in a booster seat until around the age of 12, but it depends more on their size.
To determine whether your child is ready to sit in an adult seat, you can check the following:

  1. Can the child sit with their back against the back of the seat?
  2. Do the child's knees bend in front of the edge of the seat?
  3. Does the sash belt sit across the middle of the shoulder?
  4. Is the lap belt sitting low across the hips touching the thighs?
  5. Can the child stay seated like this for the whole trip?

Rear-facing seats
Parents are also being encouraged to keep their younger children in rear-facing car seats for as long as they can, although there's a limited range of these available in Australia.
Many parents use capsules for their infants, but these usually only last for about six to 12 months. After that, the child needs to move into a forward-facing restraint.
Convertible restraints, which can face either the front or back of the car, are popular, but Bilston says evidence shows many people don't properly install these in their car.
"The convertible restraints are much more likely to be misused, [as] it's more difficult for parents to use them correctly. Unfortunately the market has moved towards these convertible restraints so there are fewer single-purpose restraints on the market."
Bilston suggests getting these restraints fitted and checked by someone who knows how to fit them properly to ensure they are safe.
Putting a jig-saw together
The reality of trying to fit all your children in your car in the seats they require can be difficult. Many cars simply don't fit three car restraints across the back seat, while others may not have the points for the tether straps or the correct seat belt to use with a booster seat in the right place.
"It is still a little bit of a juggling act, but what we're trying to do is set out all the factors that need to be considered and try and work out how best you can juggle those."
She also understands some children may be unimpressed about having to stay in a booster seat when their friends aren't using them, or want to ride in the front seat before it is safe to do so, but says parents can influence this.
"In my experience often children can be taught the right thing to do. If you can get the message across to the child – at least one over the age of a toddler – they understand why you are making such a fuss, and why it is so important."

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