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Knitted in the Womb Notes

Location: Allentown, PA

I'm a Christian wife and a mom to three daughters and two sons. I'm a member of the board of directors of EmPoWeReD Birth. In my "spare time" I'm a doula, and a certified childbirth instructor.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

5 Point Harnesses a la You-Tube

So have you seen the You-Tube video about the importance of 5 point harnesses on carseats? It seems to be doing quite the rounds these days. In case you haven't seen it, here it is:

Importance of a 5-Point Harness Carseat

As a mother of 4 children I certainly understand the importance of proper restraint of our most precious cargo. As a certified child passenger safety technician...this one is "preaching to the choir." I hope that the video inspires some people to better restrain their children (could we play it on jumbo screen TV's downtown???). My children have all rear-faced until they were nearly 2 years old because that is the safest position in the car. Katie--who turned 6 in June--still rides in a 5 point harness carseat. A seat that is tethered by way of a tether anchor that I had added to our mini-van after purchase (Ford will put these in your Ford vehicle FREE of charge!) Of course she's only 37 lbs...LOL!

The video mentions one of the problems with small children using lap-shoulder belts too soon--they tend to put the shoulder belt behind them or under their arm. However, they miss one problem with small children that many parents over-look. Some parents--in a desire to spend less time buckling their kids in--rush to teach their children to buckle themselves in. But kids don't always do a very good job of completely latching the buckle. I'll have to admit--that is the first thing that came to my mind when I watched that video--did that little boy buckle himself in? And if so, was the female end of the buckle just loosely resting in the male end, such that it easily came out? I don't know--they say they consulted experts who confirm that the seat was buckled in--which to me would indicate stress patterns were on the booster and/or vehicle buckle. I do know that in the 80's there was a problem with some seatbelts that if your elbow hit them just right they would pop open--and people died because of that. The quote they had about Buick seatbelts was strangly familiar to me--perhaps from the Reader's Digest article that I read several years ago talking about that issue from the 80's?

Okay...I'm going to be a bit "controversial" here.

The "100% effective" that they kept flashing in that video really annoyed me. Carseats are NOT 100% effective in eliminating death, even when used appropriately--some crashes are unsurvivable. It is simply a false expectation that a 5 point carseat will prevent *all* motor vehicle deaths. A rear-facing seat with a 5 point harness reduces the risk of death by 71% over being completely unrestrained, a forward facing 5 point harness reduces the risk of death by 54%, and over all carseats reduce the risk of hospitalization by 69% over being unrestrained. These statistics assume that the restraints are properly fitted and used (which, ahem, the picture of the older sister in the Britax seat illustrates misuse--the harness is visually too loose)--but even with that, you can see that it isn't a 100% reduction.

I went ahead and visited on the "in memory of" website that a link was posted to in that video. There I was able to read a bit more details about the crash. I really wanted to see some photos of the vehicle, but unfortunately, they did not post them.

What I gathered from reading that site is that this was a side impact crash. They were crossing an intersection with a yellow flashing light in their direction and a red flashing light in the crossing direction.

Side impact crashes are among the most deadly because you have very little "crush zone" between the point of impact and passengers. Though they account for only 25% of crashes, they result in 50% of traffic fatalities.

The mom saw the car coming at her and tried to warn her husband--who was driving--too late. There is no indication of how clear the intersection was as far as being able to view approaching traffic as you drive into it. Was there a blind curve near the intersection that the intersecting car popped out of after the dad looked? I don't know because it isn't stated--but I suspect that any "excuses" for the dad's failure to see this approaching vehicle would have been presented in the story.

The mom--who was seated in the front passenger seat--had minimal injuries, thus leading me to conclude that the incursion occurred further back in the vehicle--near the boy. I would expect to see some significant incursion into the vehicle at the point of the crash, but as I said, no pictures were posted.

The crash occurred at 45 m.p.h.Vehicle seat belts are only crash tested at 30 m.p.h.--as are child safety seats, so this crash involved speeds a full 150% of the speed the buckles are designed to sustain. I would speculate that during the incursion the booster seat was literally pushed sideways, straining the buckle latch until it popped. This would have happened with a 5 point seat as well--perhaps even one that was secured with LATCH. In fact, it may have happened faster because the Britax seat they reccommend is much wider than the Turbo booster they were using.

Due to centrifugal force, as the vehicle started to roll the booster and child were thrown out the window next to where the child was seated. Had a 5 point seat instead been tethered down it would have likely stayed in the vehicle because of being tethered and/or because of being too big to go out the window, but swung around as the vehicle rolled. Very likely it would have struck a fatal blow to the sister sitting on the driver's side of the vehicle. Kyle may also have still died as he may have sustained "battering" injuries as his seat was tossed around.

Do I support extended use of 5 point carseats? YES! My daughter who turned 6 in June still uses one, as does my son who turn 5 in February, and my son who turns 3 in January. My "just turned 8" year old daughter used a harnessed seat past her 5th birthday--until she was 40 lbs. She still uses a booster, and will for quite a while since she is only 50 lbs and our mini-van does not have head rests.I just can't support that they will ALWAYS prevent death.

A more protective measure in this case would have been the dad slowing down as he approached the intersection--which had a flashing yellow light (generally these are installed after someone has died at that intersection) to take the time to cautiously look in both directions for approaching traffic. I was taught in driver's ed that you should be able to stop for a yellow light if you see approaching traffic--that you should not proceed through the intersection until you have determined that there is no cross traffic, even if the cross traffic has a stop light, yet obviously this dad did not do this.

As another note, on the "in memory of" website, the parents reccommend using side curtain airbags with child safety seats. While this is a noble reccommendation of them, this pairing has not been crash tested, and thus if you do it, you are using your child as a crash test dummy. Air bags and carseats do not always make a good mix--as it demonstrated by the fact that there is no recorded instance of a standard airbag going off in a seating location with a rearfacing seat and the child is not killed.

So anyway...80-90% of carseats are installed or used incorrectly. In all of the carseat checks I have been at, I have *never* checked a seat that did not have errors that could put the children at risk. One seat came close--the only error was in how the tether strap was threaded--but the parents had not changed the threading from how it was when they got the seat from the Health Dept (their son had broken his leg and needed a special seat). Since the seat didn't have the directions with it (GGGRRRR!!!!), they had no idea it was mis-threaded.

So bottom line...we do our best. PLEASE--keep your kids in a harnessed carseat if at all possible until they are 40 lbs or 4 years old--which ever comes LAST. After that...if you can get a seat with a higher weight limit on the harness, that is great. But if you can't--use a booster until they can sit properly with just the vehicle seat belt--which might mean you need to use a booster until your child is 11 or 12 years old. But don't feel guilty if you can't afford a $250 Britax carseat. And please--get a check done for any of your carseats--just schedule an appointment. It takes just 20 minutes per seat.