Older children may still need car, booster seats - Cincinnati News, FOX19-WXIX TV

Older children may still need car, booster seats

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Children who are old enough to tie their shoes may not be old enough to be secured by just seat belts. Children who are old enough to tie their shoes may not be old enough to be secured by just seat belts.

(RNN) - Four-year-old Anton Skeen was riding in an SUV in 2000, strapped in with a seat belt, in accordance with Washington state law at that time, according to the Washington State Booster Seat Coalition.

When the vehicle rolled over, his body slid out of the seat belt, he was thrown from the vehicle and died.

Car crashes are the top killer of U.S. children ages 1 to 12. To keep children safe, professionals encourage parents to keep them in car seats or booster seats appropriate for their height and weight.

"Buckling up the right way on every ride is the single most important thing a family can do to stay safe in the car," stated Safe Kids USA, a nationwide network of organizations working to prevent unintentional childhood injury.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration encourages parents to keep children in booster seats until they are big enough for seat belts to safely restrain them. Many children will be between 8 and 12 years of age before they meet height and weight requirements.

Children ages 4 to 7 should stay in car seats until they reach the suggested weight and height limits, after which they should graduate to a booster seat.

Booster seats reduce crash injury risk by 59 percent for children ages 4 to 7 compared to seat belts alone, according to researchers at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia.

For the best protection, "children should use booster seats until they are about 4'9" and weigh between 80 and 100 pounds," according to Safe Kids USA.

Children restrained by seat belts before they are big enough for them may suffer "seat belt syndrome," or "serious cervical and lumbar spinal cord injury, as well as intra-abdominal injuries," if they are involved in an accident, the American Academy of Pediatrics notes.

The AAP hypothesizes that these injuries may be caused by the inability of a small pelvis to properly anchor the lap belt and the "tendency of children to scoot forward in the seat so that their knees bend at the edge of the vehicle seat."

"In some cases the spinal cord can be damaged and the child can become paralyzed," according to the Washington State Booster Seat Coalition.

Improperly positioned shoulder belts can cause grave injuries to the head and neck, according to the Governors Highway Safety Association.

Booster seats work with adult lap and shoulder belts, and often have a clip to guide the seat belt so that the shoulder belt rests on the collarbone and shoulder, not on the neck, and the lap belt rests on the upper thighs or hips, not across the stomach.

When children are old enough to wear seat belts alone, the AAP advises that they use lap and shoulder belts to secure their torsos.

Children riding in booster seats should never have shoulder belts under their arms or behind their backs, because it leaves their upper bodies unsupported.

"In a crash, this can cause broken ribs and internal organ injuries," according to the Washington State Booster Seat Coalition. "It also causes head injuries, a very serious concern as the brain is the organ least likely to recover from injury."

All children should ride in back seats until age 12 to reduce the risk of injury or death from air bags.

In response to Anton Skeen's SUV-rollover death, Washington passed the Anton Skeen Act, becoming the first state to pass a booster seat law. Now, 48 states and the District of Columbia have such laws.

According to the Governors Highway Safety Association, all states require child safety seats for infants and children, but specific state regulations vary widely.

For instance, the Florida Department of Motor Vehicles states it's legal for children four and older to be restrained with an adult safety belt, even though doing so may boost the child's risk of injury.

The first state child occupant restraint law was passed in Tennessee in 1978, according to the AAP. By 1985, all states and the District of Columbia had passed laws requiring restraints for young children.

In the past decade, child injury death rates have dropped, according to a report from the CDC, a decline attributed to federal and state laws.

However, 1,314 children age 14 or younger still died in motor vehicle crashes in 2009, and about 179,000 were injured.

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