With so many more stresses added to daily life it is important not to forget that children who are too small to fit the vehicle seat belt are at risk and need to ride in booster seats. The seat belt that is designed to save an adult’s life in a crash does not fit a young child and the poor fit of the seat belt can actually cause serious injuries or even death during a crash.
Many parents are under the impression that a child can be moved to the vehicle seat belt system when they have outgrown the weight limits of their harnessed car seat. Most conventional forward-facing car seats have a 5-point harness system that can be used until at least 40 pounds. However, most children weigh 40 pounds long before they are tall enough to fit in the vehicle lap/shoulder belt.
It is not surprising that children do not fit well in the vehicle lap/shoulder belts that were designed for adults who are at least 4 feet 9 inches tall. Instead of fitting properly over the lower hips, the lap belt rides over the soft tissues of the abdomen and can cause severe injury or death. The shoulder portion of the belt hits the child’s neck or face instead of lying flat across the chest. This causes many children to place the shoulder belt behind their back, leaving them with no upper body protection. A booster seat ‘boosts’ the child up so the lap/shoulder belt will fit correctly and provide protection in a crash.
Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Community Health Educator, Lorie Stovall, Navarro County, reminds parents that correctly using a booster seat can protect a child from being thrown around the vehicle or being totally ejected in a crash. In a crash, children who are incorrectly restrained by a lap/shoulder belt are likely to sustain serious injuries to internal organs, as well as the head and spinal cord. In fact, these abdominal and spinal injuries are medically referred to as “Seat Belt Syndrome.”
Motor vehicle crashes continue to be one of the leading causes of death and injury for children under 13. Car seats, including boosters, have been proven to be effective in preventing injuries and deaths and studies show that booster seats can reduce the risk of injury by 45 percent. But children in this age group are the least likely to be properly restrained
The child safety seat law in Texas is only the minimum and does not protect most 8-year-olds. The law requires children under 8 years old, unless taller than 4 feet 9 inches, to be in a child restraint system according to the manufacturer’s instructions. According to the law, an 8-year-old can legally ride in the seat belt, but only a small percentage of 8-year-olds are big enough to fit the seat belt correctly. While not every child who is 4 feet 9 inches will fit the seat belt — due to some children being longer in the torso and some children having longer legs — the average child reaches 4 feet 9 inches at age 11! Best practice is to keep the child in a booster seat until the lap/shoulder belts fits, which is usually sometime between ages 8 to 12.
Please call and sign up for the Booster Seat Campaign at Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Navarro County. Children will receive a free child safety seat inspection and a booster seat if they are at least 4 years old and at least 40 pounds and mature enough to stay in place for the entire trip and do not already have a booster seat. Call Lorie Stovall at 903-654-3075 for an appointment.