A car seat is a seat that you add in your car for your child. Depending on the type of car seat, it can act as a separate restraint for your child, or it can “modify” your child’s body to fit well into your car’s seat belt. As you will read later on, car seats are essential to keep your child safe during car rides. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration also says car seats can reduce fatal injuries by up to 54% in toddlers and 71% in infants.
There are different kinds of car seats, and this includes the rear-facing car seat, forward-facing car seat or harness seat, and booster seat. Each of these car seats has specific requirements to suit each child comfortably and safely.
As written here, children younger than 5 years old should start with a 5-point harness seat until they are matured enough for a booster seat. You can also wait for your child to outgrow his/her harness seat before moving him/her to a booster seat. On the other hand, children ages 8 years and up have the right body size for a vehicle seat belt.
You should also remember that according to the NHTSA, children ages 12 years and younger should always ride at the back seat. The reason for this is because the airbags at the front seat can cause fatal injuries to young children.
How Car Seats Work
Rear-facing car seats are cradle-like seats that you attach to your vehicle’s seat via the seat belt or the seat’s latch system. This car seat is designed for babies (birth to 12 months) although some manufacturers have designed rear-facing seats to be convertible into harness seats or forward-facing seats. This way, you can still use the seat even after your child has outgrown it.
We wouldn’t be able to explain how car seats work without talking about harness styles. To keep the explanation simple, car seats work by restraining your child’s movement. Compared to a booster seat which we will discuss later, forward-facing car seats and rear-facing car seats have dedicated straps for fastening your child in. Booster seats, on the other hand, make use of your vehicle seat belt to restrain your child.
- T-shield: this is so-called t-shield because it uses a T-shaped padded shield attached to the shoulder straps.
- Overhead shield: an overhead shield is a padded shield that looks like a bar that swings down around the child. This shield looks quite similar with the designs of restraints used in carnival rides like swing carousels.
- Three-point harness: this harness appears having three points because it crosses both the child’s shoulders and finally buckling near the seat’s bottom.
- Five-point harness: if you have a fast-growing child, a seat with a five-point harness can accommodate his/her growth compared to the other harness styles. Unlike the three-point harness, the five-point harness also crosses both sides of the child’s hips and at the crotch.
Because the harness crosses various points in a child’s body, it distributes an equal amount of restraint onto the child. This restraint prevents the child from getting thrown forward at sudden a halt or impact during a road accident.
Rear-facing car seats and forward-facing car seats also distribute the force of the impact onto a large area of the child’s body to keep them safer during an accident.
Some key points to remember when it comes to using a rear-facing car seat and a forward-facing car seat:
- For both the rear-facing and forward-facing car seats, the harness strap should sit at your child’s shoulders.
- For a rear-facing car seat, the harness strap can also sit below your child’s shoulders.
- For a forward-facing car seat, the harness strap can also sit above your child’s shoulders.
What About Booster Seats?
Car manufacturers designed seat belts for adults. They are designed to sit across an adult’s rib cage and pelvis so that in case of a sudden halt, the force of the impact will be equally distributed by the seat belt onto the strong bones. Booster seats work by “boosting” the child’s height so that he/she fits well onto the vehicle seat belt. This way, the seat belt is placed correctly onto the child’s rib cage and pelvis.
For a booster seat to work effectively, please take note of the proper belt fit on the shoulder and lap of your child. Some key points to remember for the shoulder portion of the belt is that it should be sitting comfortably on the middle of your child’s shoulder. The lap portion of the belt, on the other hand, should sit on top of your child’s thighs and not on his/her abdomen.
How Does Car Seats Save Lives of Young Children?
If your child is restrained correctly, either via your vehicle seat belt using a booster or via the harness of a harness seat, your child will avoid getting propelled out of his/her seat. This sudden projectile is incredibly dangerous because he/she can hit other passengers inside the car or crash himself/herself with the vehicle’s dash or windshield. Another worst thing that can happen is if the force of the sudden impact throws the child outside of the vehicle.
A proper seat belt fit will also reduce the possibility of other injuries such as abdominal injuries, head injuries, and spinal injuries. The abdomen is a soft tissue, and if the lap portion of the belt sits on the top of a child’s belly, it could cause internal injuries as the body propels forward in case of a crash. If the shoulder portion of the belt sits behind or under the child’s arm, the child will lose restraint on his/her upper body that can cause head and spinal injuries because of the head hitting the back of the front sit contradicted by the body’s downward arc.
There are many related studies, including one that shows how appropriate restraint combined with proper seating position (sitting at the back seat) can provide the best protection for children in crashes.
The sudden stopping of a vehicle during an impact can cause severe injuries with its passengers, primarily if they are not held down and are propelled from their seats. Children are at a higher risk of injuries during a crash because of their smaller bodies and the fact that they like to move in their places constantly. Getting them correctly restrained either by a harness or by your vehicle seat belt is incredibly essential to avoid fatal injuries.
However, for car seats to be effective and safe, always consider your child’s height and weight, your vehicle, and the seat’s guidelines. Remember that you don’t have to rush in transitioning your child to another seat type, especially if he/she is still not mature enough for a booster seat or seat belt.
Lastly, do not forget to double-check everything when you’re traveling with your child.
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