By Jayne O'Donnell
I know, I know. Getting a 6-year-old who has been riding in the car like a "big
girl" to go back to a child seat would be no easy task. But now there's considerable
evidence that keeping older kids in booster seats until they reach small-adult size
reduces injuries and saves lives.
Still, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says fewer than 7 percent of
the 20 million U.S. children ages 4 to 8 are riding in booster seats. That's a frightening
statistic when you consider that more than 500 children in this age group are killed in
car accidents each year, and thousands more are injured. Safety experts say many of the
deaths and injuries could be prevented by the proper use of booster seats.
Understanding the Necessity
When children wear adult safety belts too soon, their internal organs can be injured if
the belts ride up and slice into their stomachs in a crash. If shoulder belts are put
behind their backs, their torsos can jackknife forward, increasing the chance of head and
abdominal injuries. More than 80 percent of 4- to 8-year-old passengers in 30,000 car
crashes studied by Children's Hospital of Philadelphia and State Farm Insurance were
improperly restrained in adult-size safety belts. And the results were often tragic.
Autumn Alexander Skeen lost her 4-year-old son in a crash when an adult seat belt
failed to keep him inside the car. Skeen is now a spokeswoman for Ford Motor Company's
educational campaign promoting booster-seat use. "No parent should ever know the pain
of losing a child, especially if death or injury is easily preventable," Skeen says.
A Simple Solution
Booster seats raise children up off the seat to position them in adult belts properly.
These special seats are recommended for kids who weigh 40 to 80 pounds and are intended
for use in the back seat of vehicles that have three-point lap/shoulder belts. (Remember,
children younger than 13 should never ride up front in a car that has front air bags.)
Children can usually safely use adult belts in the back seat once they reach a height of
four feet nine inches and weigh 80 pounds.
Booster seats are available at many major department stores and at Web sites and
superstores that carry children's products. Your vehicle's manufacturer or your insurance
company may also be able to make suggestions about where to buy a booster seat in your
neighborhood. Some insurance and car companies even have special programs that offer the
seats for free or at a discount.
ClubMom's AutoPro, Jayne O'Donnell, is a Washington,
D.C.-based reporter (and new mom!) whose automotive expertise and investigative reporting
skills have helped break some of the biggest auto-safety stories of the past several
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