Car Seats and Controversy

Posted on Posted in DrDownload

Child Passenger Safety Week. I love this idea, but not for the ‘top down’ educational opportunity it presents. There’s that, of course.

I do appreciate any and every opportunity to talk about safe travel for kids. I’ve long been out here reminding anyone who will listen: We need better car seats, and we deserve trustworthy car seat safety data.

From the time I heard Steve Levitt’s TEDTalk on car seat safety, I’ve questioned everything I read and hear about the topic. The car seat industry is a billion dollar business, and I’m “all in” if the product I’m buying actually provides for my child’s safety when traveling by car. It doesn’t seem to me that it should be that difficult to standardize a trustworthy, easy to install, affordable car seat design, but apparently, I underestimate the complexities of it all.

Common sense tells me that kids are safer when restrained in a car seat.

I don’t need a statistical analysis to prove that crawling around in the car is not safe for any passenger. But there are so many conflicting studies about car seats that I have difficulty keeping up with the current ‘right’ answer when asked for advice.

Is it really true that half of parents install their car seats incorrectly?

The National Highway Transportation Safety guys say, ‘yes.’ They commissioned a large-scale study across the whole nation, thousands and thousands of vehicles with car seats and children ages 0-8 year old in them. The good news: only 2% of kids were riding unrestrained. 94% of children were in a car seat or a booster, and 4% were in seat belts alone. The bad news: there was car seat “misuse” in 46% of the vehicles inspected. Read the whole study here if you’re interested in all the many definitions of misuse. These highlight how we have trouble ensuring our kids are properly restrained. Then take a look at all the resources parents have through the American Academy of Pediatrics to avoid misusing their child’s car seat.

If nearly half of kids in child-safety restraints don’t pass the inspection guy’s test criteria, we have an industry wide problem. (And don’t get me started on winter coats and car seats.) I can press my degree in biophysics into action to postulate why we have this problem, and still... there are more questions than answers.

It’s time to address this issue of car seat safety in all its complexity.

Most recently, the 2007 landmark study by Henary and colleagues is coming under fire. This is the study in which researchers told us that our toddlers were safest if we positioned our car seats rear-facing until at least age two. We now have ten more years of data that’s been analyzed, and it seems that rear-facing might not be safer. Really? While the rear-facing recommendations are being revisited and reassessed in peer-reviewed, scientific analysis, parents may be buckling our children into car seats in the wrong direction.

We have a serious problem.

It’s time for pediatricians and the American Academy of Pediatrics to speak up for parents and children. The AAP advocates for all children, and we know that parents WANT to do the right thing when it comes to car seats. Vehicles should be designed with restraints for children built in to them.  It’s time to call for transparency in the car seat industry and ask for standardized, innovative new designs that parents can install, afford, and trust to ensure that children can ride as the safest possible passenger.  You can review a variety of materials on car seat safety at and as we organize our voices and speak for the children.

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