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MRC News

Published on February 7, 2002
Jim Albritton
Health and Research News Service

JACKSON, Miss.—A Mississippi physician wants parents and caregivers to make sure they know how to properly use child safety seats and safety belts.

As a part of National Child Passenger Awareness Week, Feb. 10-15, Dr. Rahul Vohra, medical director at Methodist Rehabilitation Center, wants parents to know that children need special protection when traveling in motor vehicles because their bodies are different than adults.

“Children need more protection because their skulls are more fragile, their heads are proportionately larger, their rib cage is thinner and they are not nearly as tall,” said Dr. Vohra. “And often parents who use child safety seats use them incorrectly. It is estimated that between 80 to 90 percent of child safety seats aren’t properly installed.”

Lauren Fairburn, director of Think First, Methodist Rehab’s statewide safety and injury prevention program, says that as children grow they need to be placed in different types of child safety restraints. “Make sure your child has the correct seat for his or her age,” said Fairburn. “Parents need to realize how important it is to always use the appropriate seat.”

All children age 12 and under should ride properly restrained in the back seat. There are several different types of child safety restraints:

  • Infant Seats. Infant seats are designed for babies from birth until at least 20 pounds. They must ride facing the rear of the car in their safety seats until they are big enough to move to convertible safety seats.
  • Convertible Safety Seats. These seats convert from rear facing for infants to forward facing for toddlers weighing at least 20 pounds. Children should remain in a forward-facing seat from 20 pounds until they reach approximately 40 pounds and four years of age.
  • Booster Seats. These seats are used as a transition to safety belts by older kids who have clearly outgrown their convertible seat and are not quite ready to use safety belts.
  • Safety Belts. When a child is old enough and large enough to use an adult safety belt, they can stop using the booster seat. For a safety belt to properly fit, the lap belt should be snug across the upper thighs and the shoulder strap should cross over the shoulder and across the chest.

“People buy car seats to protect their children, but often don’t realize that an improperly installed seat or the wrong seat for their age won’t protect their child in a crash,” said Fairburn. “We recommend parents carefully follow instructions and always get the safety seat checked by a car seat technician.”

Each year an estimated 500,000 people sustain brain and spinal cord injuries in the United States. The most frequent causes of these injuries are automobile crashes and children and teens are at high-risk for these devastating injuries, many of which are preventable.

The Think First program is aimed at young children and teenagers and tries to prevent spinal cord, brain and other traumatic injuries by focusing on automobile, bicycle, firearm, boat, swimming and diving safety.

“Our physicians, nurses and physical therapists do all they can to prevent traumatic, often life-changing injuries,” said Dr. Vohra. “They work closely with schools, fire and police departments, and other health care professionals to encourage children to always think first about safety and injury prevention.”