Car Seats And Your Childs Safety

Car Seats & Your Child’s Safety


Any parent with a newborn, infant, toddler or preschooler knows about car seats.  They’re the necessary evil that comes with any automobile trip, whether it’s a short jaunt to the grocery store or a three hour drive to visit relatives, the child restraint system is required by law for your child’s safety.  But how safe is it?


NHTSA Recommendations


The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) states that for your child’s safety you should consider the following guidelines [1]:


  • Infants (birth to one year of age or weighing at least 22 pounds) require a rear-facing convertible seat; always make sure the harness straps are at or below shoulder level and never place a rear-facing car seat in the front seat.
  • Toddlers (over one year of age and weighing 20-40 pounds) need a forward-facing convertible seat, with harness straps at or below shoulder level.
  • Young Children (ages 4 – 8 years, unless at least 4’8” tall and weighing more than 40 pounds) need a seat belt-positioning booster seat in a forward-facing seat position; the best positioning booster seats must be used with both lap and shoulder belts making sure the lap belt fits low and tight across the lap and upper thigh area, and that the shoulder belt fits snug crossing the chest and shoulder, to avoid abdominal injuries.
  • Any Children 12 and younger should ride in the backseat at all times.


Additional Features


The pursuit of the perfect car seat has created a variety of systems, checks and balances in the hope of making our children’s safety a little more secure.


LATCH, an acronym for the “Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children” system is one of the latest attempts to decrease the problems related to improperly installed car seats.


As of September of 2000, all new automobiles (except convertibles) are required to have a special attachment that secures the tether strap found on most new child restraint systems.  The purpose of the adjustable straps is to secure the seat to the rear window shelf, floor or back of the vehicle seat.  The strap will keep the top of the car seat from moving too far forward, reducing the possibility of head injuries during crashes.


In September of 2002, a second feature was required: a lower attachment bar with a matching feature on a safety seat (buckle, hook or connector) that snaps onto the lower anchor bar in the vehicle [1].


You would think that with all of these new safety measures being taken and car seat laws is every state, children would be completely safe during an auto accident, you would be wrong.


Still Number One


Despite all of our latest additions and changes in car seat safety, injuries caused by motor vehicle collisions remain the leading cause of death in children ages 2 to 14.  It is also the leading cause of disabling injuries in that same age group [2].


Just as a seat belt is meant to restrain an adult during an auto accident, the car seat has the same purpose; they are called child restraint systems not child life preservers for that very reason.  Parents mistakenly believe that if their child is in a car seat that they are immune from injury during a motor vehicle collision; when, in reality, the purpose of the car seat is only to lessen the degree of risk to the child.


Child Injury


Most insurance companies and many parents mistakenly believe that a child in a car seat is invulnerable.  The parent will rush to the Chiropractor immediately after an automobile accident to get adjusted, not realizing that their child may be suffering the same discomfort.


Why is this?  Generally, if a child doesn’t complain of pain, it will never occur to a pediatrician or parent that any injury was sustained during the collision.  Child passengers who are involved in auto accidents frequently suffer injuries without showing any obvious symptoms.  Due to their inability to communicate their pain or discomfort, symptoms such as irritability, lethargy, poor appetite and restlessness, night terrors, poor focus and/or appetite, change in bowel movements and being very clingy, may be the only sign that an infant or toddler has suffered an injury [3].


It’s important to realize that even a child in a safety seat can be injured.  Despite the fact that they’re not being thrown around the car or into the back of the seat in front of them they are still suffering from the impact.  Their body is held to the car by the restraint but their head and arms are thrown forward, which can cause severe damage to their spine and nervous system.


Even the best-positioned and properly installed car seat can only afford your child a certain amount of protection from injury.


The SUV and Your Child


The Sports Utility Vehicle is growing in popularity, and, partially due to their large size, they’re quickly becoming the newest, latest and greatest family car.  It may be that parents believe because SUVs are bigger, that they’re safer.  Pediatrics magazine recently published a study that would prove this theory wrong [4].


Researchers considered a sample of 3,922 child occupants, ages 0-15, who suffered severe injuries in auto accidents comparing the injuries of those in passenger cars with those who were riding in SUVs.  Severe injuries included but were not limited to:

  • Concussions and other brain injuries
  • Spinal cord injuries
  • Facial fractures and lacerations
  • Internal organ injuries
  • Extremity fractures and
  • Scalp lacerations


Among all the children in the study, those who were properly restrained were 75% less likely to be injured; whereas those who were in the front seat were 106% more likely to be seriously injured.  In both vehicle types, children exposed to a passenger airbag were 370% more likely to be seriously injured, and rollover crashes increased the risk of injury by 229%.


While these numbers may seem average, the real shock came when the rollover crash factor was more thoroughly explored.  In any type of auto accident, SUVs are four times more likely to roll over than any other passenger car, and a roll over crash increases the likelihood of serious injury by 229%.  Risk of serious injury caused in an SUV increased an average of 2400% for the child that is not properly restrained; with that risk being as high as 9253%.


Despite the fact that the car is bigger, heavier and may feel like a tank, the increased tendency to roll after impact means that an SUV actually increases the risk of serious childhood injury.


The Safer Car Seat


Despite all the best intentions, there is no perfect car seat, safety seat or child restraint system because they all require installation.  The NHTSA reports that more than 80% of all car seats are improperly installed and, when properly installed, they reduce the risk of childhood mortality by 54% when compared to a child riding completely unrestrained [5].


Your Doctor of Chiropractic is dedicated to your entire family’s overall wellness and encourages you to call 866-SEAT-CHECK (866-732-8243) or visit to find a seat-inspection facility near you.


In Summary


No car seat, no matter how well it is installed, will guarantee that your child will not suffer injury in an auto accident.  If you and your child have recently been involved in a motor vehicle collision, contact your Family Wellness Chiropractor to schedule a brief examination.  It is better to have your child checked and find out that there is nothing wrong, than to assume they are fine and find out later that there was severe damage done to their still developing spine.



  2. Children in Crashes by Daniel J. Murphy, DC, DABCO; Dynamic Chiropractic, Vol 16, Issue 21, October 1998
  3. Kids Need Chiropractic Too by Peter Fysh, DC; Dynamic Chiropractic, Vol 11, Issue 22, October 1993
  4. Daly, MD, et. al, Pediatrics, Vol. 117, No. 1, January 2006, pp. 9-14
  5. The Seat-Belt Solution by Stephen Dubner and Steven Levitt; NY Times; Published July 10, 2005

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