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Car Seats

How Car Seats Work -- The Only Way to Ride

Quick Question.

Did you know that if your child weighed 20lbs and was in an accident with a car traveling 30mph, that child would be exposed to a force of 600-1200lbs?

Now another question -- what if your child wasn't strapped into a safety seat properly?

Safety seats are easily the most important car safety feature to be invented in the last hundred years. Not only are they important to keep your baby safe in the event of an accident, but they are so important that it is now the law to have your baby in a proper safety devise. If you don't, you're not only risking heavy fines, you're risking your child's life!

Car designers have evolved a method for figuring out how to best measure the extent of an injury in a collision. This is known as the "Three-Part Collision", and breaks down as follows:

  • First Collision -- The first collision in a car accident is the one that occurs when the automobile strikes an object with enough force to cause deceleration. This is the initial impact of the vehicle to an object. Causing a car to stop in a collision is known as "Rapid Deceleration".

  • Second Collision -- The second collision in a car accident is caused when a person is forced into the dashboard, steering wheel, or other internal device. The difference in speed between the decelerating vehicle and the body is the speed that is used to determine the force caused in an auto accident. Obviously, the closer a person is to the deceleration rate of a vehicle the safer they are.

  • Third Collision -- The third collision in a car accident is caused by the force of a person's internal organs hitting the inside of the muscle wall or lungs. It is also where cranial injuries can damage the brain, as the force of the third collision has been known to completely sever a person's brain inside the brain case. Safety seats were designed to minimize risk of force injury to babies and children, who are acutely susceptible to those injuries.

A Complicated Problem

One of the most common problems with safety seats is that they are complicated. In particular, "anchor" straps and seatbelt straps can be a source of frustration for parents. This frustration can lead to the improper installation of the safety seat and cause a danger to the child riding in it.

Here are some basic tips on car seat safety from the American Academy of Pediatrics:

  • It is important to always use your car seat when your child is in the car.

  • It is important for you to wear your seatbelt in front of your child because it can show them that seat car safety is for everyone.

  • It is important to read the car safety seat manual thoroughly and make sure you understand how it works. You should keep the instructions with the seat itself for times when you need to refer to it.

  • The owner's manual for your car may give you additional information on proper car seat installation.

  • Your child should always ride in the back seat of the car.

  • Children and airbags don't mix! Always turn off the airbag (if you can!) before allowing a child to ride in your car.

  • The "anchor" strap is known as a LATCH (Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children) system, and is one of the most important parts of a car seat. Use it!

Keeping Baby Safe on the Road

Seats designed for newborns and very small babies have some unique features that make them improper for use by older children. Unlike older models, all infant seats face backward.

This is because a significant amount of research has shown that babies are more susceptible to head and neck injuries when they are facing forward during a car accident.

It is for this reason that you should consider using a rear facing car seat for as long as you possibly can, switching only when the child no longer fits in a rear-facing chair.

Most infant seats are intended for children under 22lbs. They come with a three or five point harness system to secure the child in place, and often come on a detachable base, making them excellent for bassinet style or stroller combinations.

From Front to Back... and Back to Front!

Convertible car seats are made with older children in mind, and are really the best value for your dollar because they can be used for much longer than other seats. Convertible seats are larger than infant car seats and are designed to face either the front or the back depending on the situation. This convenient feature makes them attractive to many parents.

A convertible seat often makes use of a five-point harness, overhead shield, or "T" shield to secure the child. The harness and straps are all adjustable, meaning that the child is going to be safe and comfortable as it grows and the chair adapts to its size.

Convertible safety seats come with a higher weight limit than an infant safety seat but rarely exceed the 35lb. mark.

Giving Your Seat a Boost

Another common form of child safety seat is the combination seat, so-called for its ability to change into a belt positioning booster seat when the child has finally outgrown the need for a safety seat.

Combination seats are most commonly used for children who have passed the 20lb. mark and are at least a year old. They come with an internal harness for strapping in children who weigh less than 50lbs, and easily change into a booster seat for larger children.

When a child is finally old enough to be out of a car seat but is still too young to be in a standard seat belt by themselves (and the AAP suggests children under the age of 11 are too young to use a seat belt by themselves) then this type of car seat easily transforms into a belt positioning booster seat, ensuring it's continued use until the child is ready to be out of a safety device altogether.

Combination seats are a smart economical decision in that the same seat can be used for many years as the child grows.

Giving Your Child a Boost

The booster seat could be considered the final stage of the child car safety seat experience. It is essentially a little chair that a child sits on in order to place him (or her!) in proper alignment with a shoulder strap or lap style seat belt. Considering that seat belts are made for people at least five feet or taller, this is an important stage of child safety. Unfortunately, it is also one of the most overlooked.

Booster seats are meant for children who have exceeded the maximum weight limit of most safety seats, which is about 50lbs, or are so tall that their ears can reach the top of the baby seat. When that happens, the child should switch over to the booster seat as quickly as possible.

These seats are sometimes accompanied with shield guards to protect the child further, but it is important to note that these "Shield Boosters" are not certified for use with children over 40lbs. This is a misconception that often arises from the fact that shield boosters look so much like baby car seats.

They are not!

Remember, any children under the weight limit of a safety seat should remain in the seat as long as possible. Safety seats are an important tool for keeping children safe in the event of an accident of other unforeseen circumstance.

Facing the Future

The most common toddler safety seat is the front facing safety car seat. Most front facing seats are usable with lap or shoulder straps, and come with their own harness, t-shield, or overhead shield.

Front facing child seats are convenient for older babies and can give them more of a sense of comfort because they can easily see mommy or daddy and they aren't stuck watching the back of the car.

Also, some designers have suggested that forward facing seats may help with vertigo (motion sickness) in children because it is easier for babies to orient themselves when they can see which direction they are facing. This is mostly speculation on the part of designers, however, and has yet to be proven.

A safety chair can save a child's life in an accident, but it is important to know what the right chair is and how to properly use it. Hopefully, this article will help you when it comes time to decide on a safety seat for your special someone.

About The Author

Bill Schnarr is a successful freelance writer providing valuable tips and advice for consumers purchasing Babies web site, gifts for babies and round baby cribs. His numerous articles offer moneysaving tips and valuable insight on typically confusing topics.

This article on How Car Seats Work is reprinted with permission.

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