Car seats: still both a good idea and . . . the law

I would think by now, midway through 2011, that I wouldn’t have to write anything about the importance of child car seats. But I find I do, because as I drive around I still see adults holding babies and toddlers over their shoulder, often while sitting in the front seat. This has been illegal in most places for many years, but it is still common and it is still stupid and dangerous. I also still see the results–several children each year come through the PICU who were unrestrained passengers in a car accident, and a few of them die.

Here are some statistics on car seats and motor vehicle accidents. (The most recent I could find come from 2003.) For that year nearly 59,000 children under the age of 5 were injured, 8% of them seriously, and about 1% died. This amounted to 471 children. Significantly, over one third of the children who died were unrestrained.

Most of us have been lectured to about these things, but I have found many parents have difficulty understanding notions of statistical risk. For example, one study showed 72% of parents were seriously afraid their child would be abducted by a stranger. That is a legitimate fear, but it is not very likely to happen; in fact, it is vanishingly unlikely. It is only one-fourth as likely as you getting struck by lightning.

My point is that parents should do what they can to reduce the chances of their child suffering harm: by all means tell your child about what to do when approached by strangers, but also please buckle them into a car seat, preferably in the back seat, when you drive anywhere with them, even a short distance.

You can find an excellent overview of all manner of car seats and how to use them here at the American Academy of Pediatrics site.


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