Friday, August 28, 2009

My love affair with carseats

Man, carseats. I love 'em. In fact, I think they are the single most important piece of baby gear you will buy. Seriously. As Ava would say, Period, and that's it!

I have always been passionate about keeping my kids safe in the car, but after Eli died I became passionate about keeping everyone's kids safe. I became a tech in his honor, to try to help other parents avoid ever having to go through losing a child. I've been a Child Passenger Safety Technician for two and a half years, and am currently and instructor candidate, which means I am going through the motions of getting my Instructor certification, which means I'll be able to teach the classes that certify firefighters, police officers, EMTs, and any other people who want to beecome techs.

I'm a Best Practice Gal. To me, the minimums are not good enough. I want to do the best I can for my kids and any kids whose parents I educate. You can read about some of my thoughts on general carseat safety here. (You should probably read that then come back here...I'll refer back to there a few times so I'm not repeating myself.)

To give you a brief overview before I jump into the questions (which will be in a subsequent post), I think kids should meet the maximums of their seats before moving up to the next 'level' of seats, such as from rear facing to forward facing to booster to seat belt. Each step up in seats can actually be a step down in safety if the child is not ready for that step. The most important thing is that kids are in a seat that fits your child (within the height and weight limits), your car (is installed following instructions with less than 1" of movement when you wiggle the seat at the belt path), and your budget. It's not all about the most expensive seat, although many times the more expensive seats have a few more ease of use features.

So what does that mean in real life? For us, it means shopping for seats that are going to fit our family long term, seats that have extended rear facing and extended harnessing in mind. Kids should be rear facing until they reach the limits of their rear facing seat. It's five times safer than forward facing. I go into more detail on this here, but you should really check out this video. (Don't worry, they're crash test dummies, nothing bad.) You'll be convinced. The cool thing is that these days there are many seats out that can accomodate kids up until 35 pounds, and three that now accomodate children rear facing up to 40 lbs. I would have killed to have that seat when I had to turn Jace around earlier than I wanted to because he hit 35 pounds just before 2.

Once your child has met the maximums rear facing and it's time to turn them around, the same concepts apply. Don't move them into a booster because it seems like a cool milestone. The minimum booster age is generally 4 years and 40 pounds, but I have almost never seen a child that is able to sit properly in a booster at that age. Kids need to sit still without fidgeting, leaning, or messing with the seat belt for the entire car ride before they will be safe in a booster. It's more a question of physical and mental maturity than age or weight.

I know it seems more convenient to just buckle a seat belt, but here's an idea: instead of moving them to a booster, teach them to buckle and unbuckle their own harnesses. Ava is a pro at it and Jace is well on his way, and all I have to do is double check that the harness is tight before we take off. It's actually easier than buckling a booster. It's the best of both worlds! The improved safety of a 5 point harness and less work for you. Score! I prefer to put kids in a seat with at least a 50 lb weight limit so that they can conceivably stay in that seat until they're really ready for a booster. My friend Laura at the Kyle David Miller Foundation can attest to how important extended harnessin fact, they think it is so important (as do I) that they provide seats to families who cannot afford them.

After your child is mature enough to sit properly in a booster, settle in for a while. Kids need to ride in a booster until they can pass the 5 Step Test. That means you need to be able to say 'Yes' to all of these questions:

1. Does your child sit all the way back against the vehicle seat?
2. Do your child's knees bend comfortably at the edge of the vehicle seat?
3. Does the shoulder belt cross your child's shoulder between his neck and arm?
4. Does the lap belt cross your childs hips as low as possible, touching the thighs?
5. Can your child remain seated like this the whole trip?

If the answer to any of those questions is 'No', you're not ready to pitch the booster. But when you are, keep your kid in the back. The backseat is monumentally safer for everyone, and kids should ride in the back at least until 12, but preferably until just about a year before they learn to drive.

In my next post about seats, I'm going to answer your questions, then may go into posts specifically geared towards choosing and installing your seats, as well as where to get them checked. I'm excited! I'm a geek. I know. Everyone makes fun of me. You can too. I don't mind. Really. Well, kind of. Much.

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