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Defective Child Restraints

Did You Know?

The leading cause of death of children between the ages of 4 and 14 is automobile accidents.

Since March of 1998, four major manufacturers of child safety seats have announced five recalls that involved nearly 10 million car seats that were determined to be unsafe by federal regulators. According to a recent survey, the use of child safety seat restraints is misused in 73% of the traffic accidents. Defective child restraints, such as car seats and booster seats, can lead to serious injury and even death. 

Children need special protection when they ride in motor vehicles. This is because their bodies are more delicate than ours, and, therefore, more susceptible to injury. Children are small, and their musculo -skeletal systems are not fully developed. Their skulls are more fragile, and their heads are larger. In order to protect them in a car, we must be aware of these physical differences. We must also recognize that vehicle seats and safety belts were built for the comfort and protection of adults, and not to secure small children.  When children are properly restrained in a vehicle, their chance of being seriously injured or killed in a highway crash is greatly reduced. 

Types of Child Restraints

  • Safety Seats for Babies - The safest place in a car for an infant is in a safety seat facing the rear of the vehicle and placed in the middle of the back seat. This helps to support the baby's head and back. If you place your baby in the safety seat, and his or her head flops forward, place a rolled towel under the front edge of the child safety seat and rolled towels or a blanket on both sides of the baby's head and shoulders for support. There are two types of safety seats made for babies:
  • Infant-only seats - These safety seats fit babies only under 17 to 22 pounds. These seats always face the rear of the car.
  • Convertible seats - These safety seats fit children from birth until they reach about 40 pounds. Convertible seats are used facing the back of the car for the first year and then can be turned to face the front when the baby is one year and weighs at least 20 pounds.
  • Booster seats - When a child has outgrown a convertible safety seat and weighs more than 40 pounds, but is still too small to make proper use of a vehicle safety belt, the child should be placed in a booster seat. There are two types of booster seats. A belt-positioning booster seat uses a combination lap/shoulder belt, if that type of restraint system is available in the car. The belt-positioning booster seat is preferable to a booster seat with a small shield, which can be used when only a lap belt is available.
  • Safety belts - When a child is old enough and large enough to fit into an adult safety belt, he or she can be moved out of a booster seat. To fit a child properly, the lap belt should fit snugly and properly across the child's upper thighs and the shoulder strap should cross over the child's shoulder and across the chest. The child should sit upright against the seat back and keep the lap belt below the hip bones, touching the upper thighs. This position is important. In the event of a crash, a child could suffer serious or fatal internal injuries if he or she slouches and the lap belt goes over the stomach.

Baby Seat Recalls

T he National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reveals an incredible number of recalls and/or safety concerns for many baby seats/carriers.

Even when child safety seats are recalled, it is often extremely difficult to get the unsafe child seats off the streets. In 1993, the recall completion rate stood at a paltry 24%. Although this number has increased to 50% by the year 2000, roughly half of all recalls do not result in getting all the unsafe child seats off the streets. Representatives of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration have accused baby seat manufacturers of producing products that meet the minimum safety standards set forth by NHTSA.

Child safety seat problems often involve defective handles (unexpected releases, weak construction, unexpected rotation, etc.) Nearly 500 injuries to infants have occurred since 1998 on recalled car seat/carrier models--to both restrained and unrestrained children. When recalls are issued, they often consist of warning notices to parents and childcare providers to not lift and carry the seat by the defective handle until the problem has been fixed. Many of the recent recalls did not involve the actual performance of the car seat and, as such, the recall notice stated that these recalled seats could still be used as car seats.

All of the recent recalls illustrate how important it is to educate parents and childcare providers on the issues of child safety seat/carrier recalls.

  • Evenflo Company, Inc.
  • Century Products
  • Kolcraft Enterprises
  • Cosco Inc.
  • Evenflo Company, Inc.

Child Restraint Safety

In order to protect your child, the safety seat must be secure. To secure the seat, you must read and follow the instructions carefully. You should also read the label on the safety belt of your car and any special instructions contained in the vehicle's owner's manual. When properly secured, the safety seat's harness will fit snugly around the baby, and you will be able to slide a finger under the straps at the baby's chest. The chest clips should be placed at the baby's armpits. If you want to cover the baby, secure the infant in the seat first and then place a blanket over the baby.

Infants in rear-facing child safety seats should never ride in the front seat of a vehicle with a passenger air bag. The back of a rear-facing child safety seat sits very close to the dashboard. In a crash, an air bag inflates very quickly and could hit anything close to the dashboard with such force that very serious injuries or even death could result. Because the back of a rear-facing child safety seat sits very close to the dashboard, it could be struck with fatal force.

Statistics on Traffic Accidents Involving Children

  • The leading cause of death of children between the ages of 4 and 14 is automobile accidents.
  • 2,343 children between the ages of 0 and 14 died in traffic accidents.
  • 291,000 children under 15 were injured in motor vehicle accidents.
  • An average of 6 children between 0 and 14 were killed and 797 were injured every day in car crashes.
  • 20 percent of those children under 15 years old who were killed in traffic accidents lost their lives in alcohol-related ** accidents.
  • Of the children ages 0 to 14 who were killed in alcohol-related vehicle crashes, nearly 50 percent (223) were passengers in vehicles with drivers who had been drinking.
  • 80 children under the age of 15 who were killed in traffic crashes were pedestrians or cyclists who were struck by drivers who had been drinking alcohol.
  • 469 pedestrians between the ages of 0 and 14 were struck by motor vehicles and killed, and 59 percent of those killed were boys.
  • 22,000 pedestrians under 15 were injured after being struck by a motor vehicle.
  • 175 children between the ages of 0 and 14 were struck and killed by motor vehicles while riding a bicycle.
  • 37 percent of cyclists injured in motor vehicle crashes were children under 15.
  • 529 children under 5 years of age lost their lives while riding in a passenger vehicle. Of these, 251 were totally unrestrained.
  • 8,145 passenger-vehicle occupants under 15 were involved in fatal crashes. 36 percent of those children who survived those crashes and 56 percent who were fatally injured were unrestrained.
  • From 1975 through 2000, safety belts and child-restraint systems saved the lives of an estimated 4,816 children. 
  • Research shows that child safety seats reduce the risk of fatal injury by 71 percent for infants under one year of age and by 54 percent for toddlers between the ages of 1 and 4. 
  • If child safety seats were used by all children younger than 5, an estimated 50,000 serious injuries would be prevented and 455 lives would be saved each year.

**An accident is alcohol-related if either a driver or a non-occupant had a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of.01 grams per deciliter or greater in a police-reported traffic crash. A person with a BAC of.10 grams per deciliter or greater is considered to be intoxicated.

Statistical Sources: United States Department of Transportation, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, National Center for Statistics & Analysis, Traffic Safety Facts (2000); Pennsylvania State Data Center, Auto Accident Statistics Announced for Young Drivers in Pennsylvania (March 1999).


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