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Parent Education

Many Parents Turn Child Safety Seat Around Too Soon

Most do so before age 2, many do before age 1, despite guidelines recommending that front-facing seats not be used before 2.

A recent study showing that parents are turning car seats forward too early supports the need for ongoing education efforts on child passenger safety, public health and safety experts say. The University of Michigan C.S. Mott Children's Hospital National Poll on Children's Health this year found that, of 500 parents questioned, three-quarters switched their child from a rear-facing to a front-facing car seat before age 2. Thirty percent of parents turned their child's seat to face forward before their child turned 1.

The American Academy of Pediatrics updated its guidelines for the use of car seats in April, recommending that children stay in rear-facing car seats until age 2. A rear-facing child safety seat does a better job of supporting the head, neck and spine of infants and toddlers in a crash, because it distributes the force of the collision over the entire body, a spokeswoman with the academy said.

"The results of the survey highlight how much work we have to do in making safer choices for our children," said Michelle Macy, a clinical lecturer of emergency medicine at the University of Michigan Medical School.

A 2007 study in the journal Injury Prevention showed that children younger than 2 are 75 percent less likely to die or be severely injured in a crash if they are riding in a rear-facing child seat.

Though the rate of deaths in motor vehicle crashes in children younger than 16 has decreased substantially nationwide — dropping 45 percent between 1997 and 2009 — it is still the leading cause of death for children age 4 and older. There are more than 5,000 deaths each year among children and teens up to age 21. For every fatality, roughly 18 children are hospitalized and more than 400 are injured seriously enough to require medical treatment.

"It can take time to get the word out about the proper use of car safety seats," said Karen Sheehan, medical director for the Injury Prevention and Research Center at Children's Memorial Hospital in Chicago. "No one disagrees with the AAP guideline. The dissemination piece, however, takes time."

Word of mouth may be the best way to get information out about the new American Academy of Pediatrics guidelines, said Stephanie Krienitz, staff nurse in the postpartum unit of Rush University Medical Center.

"Parents might be doing what a sister recommended instead of what they should be doing," Krienitz said. "The AAP guideline is the one to follow, but parents have a hard time changing. It is so important for parents to stay up to date."

Last month, the Illinois Department of Transportation held events throughout the state educating the public on the correct use of child safety seats. Illinois law requires all children to be properly restrained in a child safety seat or booster seat until age 8. Currently, Illinois law does not require children to ride in a rear-facing child safety seat up to a set weight or age. Illinois law does require that all children be properly restrained in child safety seats.

"We want to encourage adults with small children to be aware of car seat safety (guidelines)," Illinois State Police spokeswoman Monique Bond said. "There's a lot that goes into it. A lot of parents think, buckle up and that's it, and it's not."

Chicago Tribune - October 05, 2011|By Malcolm Garcia, Special to the Tribune


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