Dec 092011

By Teri Walker–

Parents bundling kids up against the cold before putting them in car seats may be unwittingly putting them at risk of injury.

Child Passenger Safety Technician Michelle Gioglio of the Department of Public Safety warns parents against putting infants and toddlers in coats or swaddling them in blankets before strapping them into car seats.

“In an accident, the extra padding can compress and create space between the child and the restraining straps,” said Gioglio. “That space lets a child move around, and you don’t want a child to move in an accident.”

Gioglio advises parents to strap, then wrap: first strap a child in a car seat, and then tuck the child’s coat or blankets around them.

“Our adult seatbelts lock in emergencies. The harness on a child’s car seat will not. You want a child’s harness to be as snug against your child as possible, because it’s the only thing holding that child to the seat,” said Gioglio.

Other common mistakes of well-meaning parents who put children in car seats or booster seats render what should be life-protecting devices essentially useless.

Gioglio says parents may not pull children’s seat restraint straps or a seat belt across a booster seat tight enough; another mistake is turning the baby around to face the front before it’s time. “Children should remain rear facing until they are two years old or at the upper weight limit for their car seat,” explained Gioglio.

Parents also shouldn’t use adult shoulder harness seatbelts on children until they’re big enough. Some criteria to consider: a child should be at least four feet, nine inches tall; when they are scooted back flush against the seat of the car, their knees should bend at the edge of the seat, rather than legs extending straight out past the seat.

It’s important, Gioglio said, to secure lap belts across a child’s hips, ensuring the child is big enough or the belt is snug enough to keep from riding up on the child’s stomach.

“A seatbelt across the belly can cause serious internal damage in an accident,” said Gioglio.

Putting children in booster seats until they’ve reached the upper limit on the weight limit indicated for the specific seat is the best bet. Most booster seats accommodate up to 80 or 100 pounds.

Arizona law only requires a child to be in a child restraint or booster seat until the age of five.

“Parents need to consider more than the law when it comes to their child’s safety,” advised Gioglio, relating that many states have an “8 or 80” law, requiring children to be in an accepted child-safety restraint until the age of eight or until they reach 80 pounds.

The bottom line: make sure a child is big enough before transitioning away from a car seat or booster.

“It doesn’t matter what kids think is cool or not; parents are the parents and need to be parents, and consider the child’s safety first,” concluded Gioglio.