As a parent or caregiver, your top priority is to keep your child safe. Car safety is just one aspect of this, but if you spend any amount of time traveling in a motor vehicle, it is essential that you get it right. Any time you are driving with your child, you should be certain that they are properly restrained either with a seat belt or in the correct car seat for their age.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), car accidents are one of the leading causes of death for children. In 2019 alone, motor vehicle accidents killed 608 children under the age of 12. Collisions injured another 91,000 that same year.
At Belsky, Weinberg & Horowitz, LLC, we know how important it is to understand risk factors when trying to prevent childhood injuries, so let’s explore the biggest motor vehicle threats to children.
Improper Safety Restraints or Car Seats
According to Maryland state law §22-412.2, all children under the age of 16 must either ride in a child safety seat or use a seat belt. A seat belt can be thought of as two parts: the shoulder belt and the lap belt.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) says that when worn properly, the shoulder belt should rest “across the middle of your chest and away from your neck.” The lap belt should rest along your hips rather than on your stomach. If the shoulder belt is too close to your child’s neck, adjust it so that it is lower. If it is still too close, your child may require a booster seat to travel safely in a motor vehicle.
Maryland law §22-412.2 further states that children under the age of six must be properly secured in a child safety seat regardless of weight or height. Children over the age of six must also ride in a child safety seat if they weigh less than 40 pounds. Proper child safety seats are as follows:
- Rear-Facing Car Seats. These include infant car seats, convertible car seats, and all-in-one seats. Both convertible and all-in-one seats have the ability to be either rear or forward-facing. Ideally, children should ride in rear-facing car seats until they are at least two years old. Rear-facing seats are designed to move with children during an accident, reducing stress on the neck and spinal cord.
- Forward-Facing Car Seats. Convertible seats, combination seats, and all-in-one seats can all be used as forward-facing seats. During a car accident, this type of seat will limit a child’s forward movement, limiting the potential for an injury.
- Booster Seats. High-back booster seats, backless booster seats, combination seats, and all-in-one seats can all be appropriately used to raise and position older children so that they can safely and properly wear a seat belt.
Children who are not properly restrained in a child safety seat or with a seat belt are much more likely to be seriously injured or even die in a motor vehicle accident.
Just using a child safety seat is not enough to keep children safe in an accident. The safety seats must also be properly restrained with either a harness, tether, or both, and must also be placed in the back seat. Never place a car seat in the front passenger seat of a motor vehicle.
When properly used alongside seat belts, air bags save lives and limit injuries in adults. However, they are not designed for children or their safety seats.
Air bags often inflate at speeds upwards of 200 mph. Rear-facing car seats position newborns and infants much closer to where the air bags deploy than where adults normally sit. An air bag deploying at top speed can cause significant damage to children and car seats that are placed up front. Air bags are also more likely to hit children in the neck or head, which can be fatal.
Never place children’s safety seats in the front seat. Children are always safer riding in the back. If your vehicle does not have a back seat, adjust the passenger seat so that it is sitting as far away as possible from where the air bags deploy. There may also be a function to turn off the passenger air bag.
Riding in Cargo Areas and Trunk Entrapments
It may be tempting to allow your child to ride in the cargo area of a pickup truck, especially if you are only traveling a short distance. Maybe you even have happy memories of riding in the back of your own parents’ pickup. No matter how you might feel, there is no denying it—riding in the cargo area of a pickup truck is not safe.
According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, children are ten times more likely to die when riding in the cargo area of a truck than in all other types of collisions, making this one of the biggest motor vehicle threats to children.
There are other dangers lurking in the cargo area or trunk of a vehicle, though. Children are naturally curious and, when given the opportunity to explore new or exciting areas, will do so without hesitation. Your definition of a fun place to explore will be a lot different than that of a child, though.
Kids often naturally gravitate toward trunks, so you should always be sure to keep trunks closed and locked when children are around. Any rear seats that may give access to trunk space when folded down should be kept in their upright positions.
Being Left Unattended
It can be tempting to leave your child in the car while you pop into a store for just a few minutes. However, tragedy can strike in less time than it takes for you to grab your items and check out. Even small children may be able to shift a vehicle into neutral, which could allow it to roll out of its parking space and into traffic.
Dangerously hot or cold temperatures can cause fatal injuries, too, even if you think that the air conditioning or heating was set to an appropriate temperature. Children can play with and manipulate these settings while waiting for you to return, and may turn the settings too high or off altogether, leaving them vulnerable to dangerous temperatures.
Stopped vehicles are not immune to collisions, either. Children left unattended in a stopped or parked vehicle can still be involved in a car crash.
How To Help Your Child After a Serious Car Accident
You might have done everything right for your child, including making sure they were in the correct child safety seat and always rode in the back. Maybe you even had strict rules about staying away from trunks and cargo areas and have never left your child unattended in a vehicle, because you know these behaviors are some of the biggest motor vehicle threats to children.
While these actions limit the risk of severe injury and death, there are other car safety threats to children. Your child can still be seriously harmed by the actions of a negligent or reckless driver.
If your family was involved in an accident, your child may have weeks, months, or even years of recovery ahead of them. The mental anguish associated with being involved in a serious motor vehicle accident at such a young age can be traumatizing, too. At Belsky, Weinberg & Horowitz, LLC, we know how much of an uphill battle life after a car crash can be, especially for a child.
You and your family are not in this alone, though. Contact us for a free consultation so that we can guide you through your legal options for recovering compensation.
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