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by Judy Antell


   Parents leaving the hospital with a newborn make sure an infant seat is installed. Toddlers and preschoolers get buckled into their child safety seats on every excursion.  But until recently, older kids, those who have outgrown their safety seats, were often placed at risk — in seats belts that did not adequately protect them. Kids Safety First seeks to change that.

   The national organization promotes child car safety and educates parents on the importance of child booster seats.  For example, while New York State law requires that all children under 7 must be buckled into a federally-approved appropriate child restraint system, Kids Safety First urges parents to keep even 8-year-olds in booster seats.

   Kristin Varela, founder of MotherProof.com, which gears car reviews towards moms, is an automotive safety expert and mother of two.  She has become a spokesperson for Kids Safety First because her own daughters, ages 4 and 6, are firmly in the booster seat age and despite being a car expert, she has been stymied.  “I really understand first-hand some of the confusion other parents go through,” she says.

   Varela contends, “The best practice is that all children ages 4-8, between 35 and 80 lbs, definitely need to be in booster seats.”  What is critical, she adds, “is that the shoulder belt and lap belt sit properly. It’s a size issue, not an age issue.”  The guidelines for booster seat usage assume a child, at 8, being at least 4’9”, but that’s not always the case.  Varela urges parents to observe their child in the car seat; they need to have their knees hanging over, with the lap belt sitting low on their hip, not stomach, for them to be large enough to forgo a booster seat.  The shoulder belt, she adds, “should be across the shoulder, not the neck.”

   In July, Kids Safety First partnered with Mitsubishi to give away 12,000 booster seats at dealerships and charitable organizations across the country.  You can get free materials on which car safety seats to use at www.kidssafetyfirst.org.

Kids Safety First
offers these sobering

—Motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death among children ages of 3-14, according to a 2003 study by the National Center for Health Statistics.

—There were 487 fatalities among child passengers aged 4 to 7 in 2005, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s (NHTSA) Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS).

—NHTSA recommends that children between the ages of 4 and 8, or children who weigh between 35 and 80 lbs, should use a booster seat, which raises the child so the vehicle lap and shoulder belts fit properly.

—According to a 2002 study by the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP), children between the ages of 4 and 8 who use booster seats are 59 percent less likely to be injured in a car crash than children who are restrained only by a safety belt.

—According to the 2003 Motor Vehicle Occupant Safety Survey, only 21 percent of children ages 5 through 8 rode in booster seats, while 15 percent of parents had not heard of booster seats.

—Overall booster seat usage is estimated at only 10 to 20 percent nationwide, according to the NHTSA.

—As determined at child passenger safety seat inspection stations across the country, more than 81 percent of child restraints are used incorrectly, including 88 percent of forward-facing toddler seats, 86 percent of rear-facing infant seats and 85 percent of safety belts.

—According to the NHTSA, the three most common mistakes in child safety seat installation are: (1) not attaching the seat tightly to the vehicle, (2) not fastening the harness tightly enough, and (3) not using the chest clip or using it incorrectly.

   As Varela says, “The longer you can keep them in booster seats, the better off they will be.”

   To find out if you are using your car seat properly, call for an appointment for a free inspection at a DOT Child Car Seat Fitting Station:

107-02 Myrtle Avenue, Richmond Hill; (718) 805-4510
59 Maiden Lane. (212) 839-2203
672 West 158th Street. (212) 795-3046
837 Brush Avenue. (718) 822-4116
Woodhull Hospital, 760 Broadway  
(718) 963-6858

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