Tag Archives: Child Safety

Which child safety seat is the right one for you?

By Stephanie D. Shaw

Graphic for Child Passenger Safety Week“Every 33 seconds a child is involved in a crash.”
“6 out of 10 car seats are installed improperly.”

For parents, these statistics might be terrifying and overwhelming. As a parent and volunteer child passenger safety technician, I take comfort in knowing that the best way to protect my own children is the proper use of age-appropriate child safety seats and booster seats. But with so many messages out there—and maybe not the same technical background or experience—how do you know if you’re making the right decisions for your children?

Today, I wanted to share the answers to some of the questions I’ve gotten from parents and caregivers.

Q. When is my child old enough to sit up front with me?

A. Until they properly fit an adult seat belt, they should always ride in the back seat, and they should always use the right child safety seat or booster seat! But different-size children need to be protected differently – read on.

Q. Which child car seat is the safest?

A. All child car seats must meet the same federal safety standards. But car seat designs vary. That’s why it is critical that you look for a seat that is recommended for your child’s height and weight.

Q. So just buy the right car seat?

A. Not so fast. Buying the right seat for your child is the first step. But, it still falls on the adult to install and use the car seat properly every time.

Q. How do I install and use a child safety seat?

A. Read carefully and follow the instructions that came with your car seat and also your vehicle owner’s manual. It’s important to read both, as they provide steps for how and where to install the seat in your vehicle. All children should ride properly secured in a car seat or booster seat in the back seat. If you would like help installing your seat, visit Safe Kids Worldwide to locate a child passenger safety technician in your area.

Q. When do you change from rear-facing to forward-facing seats?

A. Children under the age of 2 are best protected when they are in a rear-facing car seat in the back seat, as their spine and neck are not developed enough to support their head in the event of a crash. Even for children older than age 2, it’s recommended that they remain rear facing until they outgrow the rear-facing height or weight limit for their seat. When children outgrow a rear-facing car seat, they should use a forward-facing car seat with an internal harness and tether.

Q. When is my child ready to ride like an adult passenger?

A. Not until the adult seat belt fits them properly – usually when they are 4’9” tall. Until then, they should use a booster seat. Booster seats help children fit in an adult seat belt. Children seated in a booster seat in the back seat of the car are 45 percent less likely to be injured in a crash than children using a seat belt alone.

Q. How can you tell when an adult seat belt fits them properly?

A. seat belt fits properly when the lap belt lies snugly across the upper thighs, not the stomach. The shoulder belt should lie snugly across the shoulder and chest, and not cross the neck or face.

Q. What are the common mistakes to look out for in using the car seat?

A. Some common mistakes parents and caregivers make include:

  • using a forward-facing child car seat too soon;
  • installing the car seat too loosely and allowing the seat to move more than one inch at the belt path;
  • allowing the harness straps to fit loosely so they fail the pinch test; and
  • placing the chest clip too low, rather than at armpit level.

To help avoid some of these common mistakes, read the instructions that came with your car seat and also your vehicle owner’s manual. Reading these instructions will help you determine whether to use a seat belt or the lower anchors, and when to use the tether to secure your seat.

Your car seat instructions will help you position the car seat (rear facing, forward facing, or reclined); properly use the internal harness, chest-clip and buckle; and determine how best they should fit to protect your child.

Q. Can I get hands-on help?

A. You’re in luck! It’s Child Passenger Safety Week. Child passenger safety technicians and other safety professionals will host events nationwide, where parents and caregivers can get hands-on help to ensure their child is in the most appropriate car seat, installed and being used properly. (Such help is also available year-round.)

Car seats, booster seats, and seat belts are a child’s best defense against injury and death in the event of a motor vehicle crash. As a parent and a technician myself, I encourage you to find a car seat check event or child passenger safety technician in your area to make sure you’re using the right seat, every trip, every time.

Saturday, September 24, is National Seat Check Saturday. To find an event in your community, visit www.safercar.gov.

Stephanie Shaw is a NTSB Safety Advocate in the Office of Safety Recommendations and Communications.

How Will You Send Your Kids to School? – Make Safety Your First Priority

By Leah Walton

I’ve worked in the traffic safety arena for more than 10 years. I know the rules of the road, I know the traffic statistics, and I know the safest mode of transportation.   

But what I don’t know yet is how I will feel when I send my first child to kindergarten. The first day of school is fast approaching, and I admit I’m getting emotional about it. Will my son be safe and happy in this new environment? Will he make friends? Is he ready for kindergarten? Where did the time go?

One thing we should also ask ourselves: how will our children get to and from school and what is the best way of getting there?

The best way to get to and from school varies from family to family, and sometimes even student to student. We must take into consideration all the options and determine the safest way to transport our children.

Students can travel by school bus, family vehicle, public transportation, bicycle, or walking. Regardless of the way they get there and back, we must teach them – and demonstrate for them – the safest practices and behaviors.

Will your child ride the school bus? It should be your first choice if it is an option for your family.  Statistically, the school bus is the safest form of transportation on America’s roadways. Before your child steps on the school bus, talk to them about how to ride the bus safely. Remind them to wait at the bus stop until the bus comes to a complete stop and the driver signals that it’s ok for them to get on. Once on the bus, they should sit quietly in their seat facing forward, buckle their seat belts if the school bus has them, and hold the handrail when getting on or off the bus.

Will your child walk or bike to school? That’s an excellent way to reach the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ recommended 60 minutes or more of daily physical activity! It is recommended that children under the age of 10 walk with an adult or an older, responsible sibling. Talk to your children about walking safely, using crosswalks and sidewalks, and walk the route with them before school starts to practice being a safe pedestrian. If they ride their bike, make sure they wear their helmet – a helmet is the best protection against head and brain injury. Review bicycle safety tips and practice the ride with them too, to ensure they are safe and ready.

Will your child ride with you or drive themselves to school? It is important to note that more students are killed while riding or driving in a passenger vehicle than any other mode of transportation. If this is your family’s only or best option, make sure everyone is as safe as possible in the family vehicle. Make sure everyone is in the right type of seat for their size, has their seat belt fastened, and is free of distractions (if driving)

source: National Highway Traffic Safety Administration

Back to school safety isn’t just an important consideration for parents and caregivers of schoolchildren – back to school safety should be a priority for all community members. Today, the NTSB hosted a press event that featured the “Look Out for Each Other” campaign of Montgomery County, Maryland, which reinforces the sentiment that traffic safety involves everyone. We must all work together to make sure everyone reaches their destination safely – whether we are on our way to work, out for an evening with friends, or headed off to the first day of school.

Back to school time comes with many mixed emotions – especially for me now. But, with proper planning, fears around how our children will get to and from school should not be among them.

Leah Walton is a Safety Advocate for NTSB

What’s the Safest Way for Students to Get to and From School? By School Bus

By Chairman Christopher A. Hart

Drawing of school bus listing safety features. Courtesy Utah Department of Public SafetyOver the next few weeks, nearly 50 million children will head back to school; more than 20 million of those students, including my daughter, will ride on a school bus.

When I talk about how to safely transport children to and from school, and more specifically about school bus safety, one of the first questions I am asked is “Why aren’t school buses required to have seat belts?” The answer isn’t simple, but I’ll explore it below.

First, let me convey something that is simple: school buses, with or without seat belts, are the safest way to go to and from school! Your child is safer riding in a school bus, even without seat belts, than any other way to get to school, including your own car.

Every year, more than 30,000 people are killed on the nation’s roadways. In fact, motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for school-age children. Each year approximately 800 school-age children are killed in motor vehicle crashes during normal school travel hours (September 1 through June 15, Monday through Friday, 6:00 a.m. to 8:59 a.m. and 2:00 p.m. to 4:59 p.m.) The numbers are worst for teenagers driving themselves to and from school, who are at the highest risk of injury or fatality. The risk for teen drivers is about eight times higher than the risk for teens driven by adults.

Which children are safest? The ones on the school buses. Of those 800 school-age children killed in motor vehicle crashes per year, only 20 – or 2 percent – were school-bus related. Five were passengers on a school bus, and 15 were pedestrians approaching or leaving the bus. The other 98 percent were children riding bicycles or motorcycles, or riding in or struck by passenger vehicles. School buses have the lowest injury and fatality rates of all motor vehicles.

I understand why I am so often asked the question about school buses and seat belts. It’s natural for us, as parents, to question what appears to be a glaring safety gap. We are taught from the moment we bring our children home from the hospital that we need to have them properly restrained in a child safety seat, and a booster seat as they grow older, and we constantly hear the message that all of us need to be buckled up on every trip.

The answer regarding school buses is that the regulators and manufacturers have pursued a holistic total protection approach, rather than just focusing on seat belts. To understand how this came to be, some history about school bus safety might be helpful.

Back in 1977, school buses were redesigned because they weren’t protecting students as well as they should. As for the protection that we normally associate with seat belts, regulations called for a design that was known as “compartmentalization” because seat belts were not widely worn in 1977. Compartmentalization requires closely spaced, energy-absorbing, high-backed, padded seats which absorb crash forces and provide the protection needed during a front or rear-impact crash. And, as the statistics show, compartmentalization works in those types of crashes. Experience has shown that seat belts are an important complement to compartmentalization in side impact and rollover crashes, but experience has also shown that side impact and rollover crashes are very rare.

Other new rules were passed as well. Some of these rules required a stronger roof to protect students in a rollover and a stronger structure to ensure safety during the most severe crashes. Others focused on the stop-arms, the bright (yellow) color, the exterior lights, and the rules for other motorists driving near the bus. The fact that students sit high above the ground in a school bus is also an added safety benefit.

Given the success of this holistic approach in school buses, we have not recommended seat belts, but we have pushed for continuing to explore more holistic remedies to protect the students. Taken together, school buses are now required to meet more federal regulations than any other vehicle on the road.

Remember, with or without seat belts, children and teenagers are safest riding to and from school in the school bus.

Have your child ride the school bus and know that they are going to and from school in the safest way possible.

School Bus Safety Has Come a Long Way

by Stephanie Shaw

School Buses

Twenty five years ago, a crash occurred in Alton, Texas, that changed school bus safety forever. At 7:34 a.m., on September 21, 1989, a school bus carrying 81 students to school collided with a truck operated by the Valley Coca-Cola Bottling Company. After the collision, the school bus continued traveling and dropped into an excavation pit partially filled with water; the bus was totally submerged in approximately 10 feet of water approximately 35 feet from the nearest shoreline. Twenty-one students died. The NTSB investigated this tragedy to examine what occurred and made recommendations to improve school bus safety.

This tragedy allowed the NTSB to shed light on serious school bus safety flaws. In Alton, the children needed to escape through the windows, as the standard exits were either overcrowded or not working. But even with passengers shifting to windows, which were not designed as emergency exits, the exit options were insufficient. Moreover, the children were unprepared for how to react during an emergency. And during the evacuation, children and rescuers struggled to keep exits open. The NTSB issued several recommendations designed to address these gaps, including evaluating the feasibility of making the windows larger, establishing a requirement that floor emergency exits are designed to remain open during emergencies, and developing a comprehensive school bus evacuation-resource guide. Amendments to applicable federal regulations, issued in November 1992, addressed school bus emergency exits and a comprehensive guide was developed by early 1994.

Twenty-five years later, school buses are the safest mode of transportation for getting children back and forth to school. Every day, nearly 500,000 yellow school buses transport about 26 million school children nationwide safely. This week, school districts around the county will observe School Bus Safety Week. A week dedicated to engaging parents, students, teachers, motorists and school bus operators, and many others to address the importance of school bus safety.

As we reflect on the Alton crash twenty-five years later and the 21 young lives lost, we recognize that because of that loss and the changes that were made to buses lives have been saved.

Happy Father’s Day

By Jenny Cheek, Safety Advocate


Photo of NTSB Investigator and CPS technician Dennis Collins demonstrating the process of properly installing a child safety seat.
NTSB Investigator and CPS technician Dennis Collins walked us through the process of properly installing our child safety seat.

Father’s Day has taken on new meaning in my home, as my husband, Mike, and I prepare to welcome our first child in late June. Becoming first time parents can feel overwhelming with all the important decisions that need to be made, but we assumed that at least one thing would be simple for us: the selection and installation of a child safety seat for our car. After all, I’ve worked in the traffic safety field for several years. Surely, I’d know just what to do when it came to choosing the best child safety seat for our daughter.

 Like many things with first-time parenting, we had no idea what we were getting into. What seemed like a simple idea – choosing the safest seat for our child – was actually really confusing. There are various styles of child safety seats (infant seats, convertible seats, and booster seats) made by dozens of manufacturers, all with different features and prices. I wondered how we would make the best choice. We quickly learned that all seats sold in the United States must meet minimum safety standards, so anything available on the market will provide protection when properly installed and used. It’s most important to choose a seat that’s right for your child’s age and size, that fits in your vehicle, and that can be properly installed and used.

Once we made our choice of a seat, we were faced with what we thought would be the daunting task of installing it properly. It’s estimated that 73 percent of child safety seats are not installed or used correctly, and incorrectly installed or improperly used seats don’t provide the intended protection in the event of a crash. Correctly used child safety seats can reduce the risk of death to children by as much as 71 percent. We weren’t willing to take a risk with our child’s safety, so we sought help getting our seat installed.

Enter NTSB Human Performance Investigator Dennis Collins. Not only is Dennis a seasoned investigator in our Highway Safety division, he’s also a Child Passenger Safety technician and trainer. He’s been professionally trained on how to install all varieties of seats in just about any type of passenger vehicle.* Perhaps even more importantly, Dennis is a father of five, so he understood our desire to have the seat properly installed. Dennis walked us through the process of installing the seat and demonstrated how to use all its features. Thanks to Dennis, Mike and I both feel confident that we can ensure that the seat stays properly installed and use it so we get the maximum safety benefit for our child.

With our new child safety seat properly installed, there’s just one thing left: waiting for our baby to make her arrival.

* Click here to find a certified Child Passenger Safety Technician or seat check resource near you.