Child passenger safety during holiday travel season

The holiday travel season is upon us and millions of people will load their families into their cars and hitting the road to visit loved ones or escape from crazy, busy lives. Last week, Street Smarts published an interview with Chris Cochran of the California Office of Traffic Safety in an attempt to get parents and caregivers to think seriously about the safety of their smallest and youngest passengers -- the most precious of their cargo. As Cochran said, in a crash, children -- and adults -- improperly restrained in vehicles can become projectiles inside the vehicle and perhaps be thrown outside. Car crashes remain the leading cause of death for children 1-13 years old, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. With an 80 percent child safety seat compliance rate here in California, more must be done to protect children in cars. Below are child safety seat guidelines:  
  1. All infants and toddlers should ride in rear-facing car seats in the back seat until they reach their seats height or weight limit. To protect their neck and spine, children should remain in rear-facing car seats until they are about two years of age. Never put a rear-facing car seat in front of an active air bag.
  2. When children outgrow rear-facing convertible seats, upgrade them to a forward-facing car seat with a harness but still have them ride in the back seat until they reach the upper weight or height limit of the car seat. That's usually around 40- to 50-pounds, depending on child’s physical and developmental needs.
  3. A booster seat is needed when children outgrow the forward facing car seat. Children should ride in booster seats until they are 8 years old or 4 foot 9 inches tall.
  4. Children can sit in the vehicle's seat with a seat belt only when they outgrow their booster seats and are developmentally ready. A properly fitted seat belt means the child's knees bend comfortably over the vehicle seat, the lap belt lies low across the hips at the upper thigh and the shoulder belt fits across the shoulder without touching the neck. Also remember, children under 13 years old should always ride in the rear seat.
Parents with questions about car seat installation and child passenger safety can contact their local fire department or the Santa Cruz Area CHP office, 831-662-0511. Information also is available online at http://www.santacruzhealth.org/phealth/family/3seatsforkids.htm and http://www.safercar.gov/parents/home.htm.
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