Wednesday, May 12, 2010

How To Save a Life

I've decided to come out against car seats.

One night last week, as we passed the mall on our way to a park, we stopped at a red light next to a giant SUV. A toddler/preschooler stood on the hump on the floor in the back, leaning his head between the two front seats to chat with the driver.  As we watched, the kid bounced around, leaning forward, hopping up onto his own seat, then wiggling around some more. He was obviously unrestrained, and this was a busy road, a busy intersection, a busy time of day. (For locals: Manchester at Ballas shortly after 6:00 pm.)

I grabbed my armrest then turned automatically to check on my own children, ages 3 and 6, securely restrained in their five point safety harnesses. Paul was shocked. "Should I honk?" he asked. "Roll down my window and say something to her?"

No way. I'm sure she knows the law, or at least knows that toddlers are supposed to be in car seats.

But I've been wondering about the law myself, lately, and decided to look it up when we got home. Ellie will finish kindergarten in the a couple of weeks, and then she'll be a first grader. She's a pretty compliant kid, but she's getting a little tired of the car seat. (In the van she's in a full 5-point safety harness, but in our second car she has a simple backless booster. She'd prefer not to ride in either of them.)  Periodically she asks me if she can just sit on the actual seat of the car. And the answer is always no.

But maybe soon? I thought. Because not only would it be a lot less hassle not to have to worry about car seats. Also, how long before she can sit up front with me?

The world of travel has changed dramatically since I was a kid. I know that the way we do things now is much safer, that fewer kids die in motor vehicle accidents, and I'm all for that. We always follow adult and child restraint laws, plus a little extra protection just to be safe (like keeping Ellie in the full car seat when she could legally just be in a booster).

But wasn't it nice when we got to sit next to our parents in the car, manipulate the car's heating, cooling, and radio? See out the same windows as the driver? Have easier conversations that don't involve hollering from the front seat to the back or turning around to look constantly? There's this huge barrier to intimacy we've constructed by keeping our kids "safe" in the back seat.

For how long? In Missouri:
  • Children less than 4 years old or less than 40 pounds must be in an appropriate child safety seat.
  • Children ages 4 through 7 who weigh at least 40 pounds must be in an appropriate child safety seat or booster seat unless they are 80 pounds or 4'9" tall.
  • Children 8 and over or weighing at least 80 pounds or at least 4’9” tall are required to be secured by a safety belt or buckled into an appropriate booster seat.
The National Standards say "at least age 8."

Ellie might never be over 80 pounds and 4'9", so we're fortunate she'll age out of her booster in another couple of years.  (Can you imagine carpooling a few second or third graders, all in car seats?! I guess I'll be experiencing that challenge soon enough.)

As for my question about when children can ride safely in the front seat, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says not until s/he's at least 13 years old.  Thirteen!  In Missouri, children under 12 years old must ride restrained in the back seat.  But passenger safety organizations such as SafetyBeltSafe U.S.A. recommend going even further and keeping your child in the backseat until he's ready to drive himself.

You know what's safe? Never let your child in the car.

You know what's not safe?  A kid whose first experience in the front seat is driver's ed.



RobMonroe said...

Wow - I thought it was age of 10 for the front seat. Someone wants it to be 16? Insanity.

Abby already tries to get out of sitting in her seat, but I can't for the life of me figure out why. She even has her own cup/snack holder in this seat! :o)

Kim, Too said...

I was lucky to find a Kangaroo Booster seat at a resale shop when my kids were little. We all loved it. It was comfortable for them and easy to use and works with your car's regular seat belts.

Kim, Too said...

Oh, sorry. After googling and checking ebay, I don't think they make them anymore. It must have been a death trap after all. Lucky my kids survived. (I still think it was awesome.)

Sarahlynn said...

Rob, I know! They have cushioning, a nice cozy seat that's fitted to them, head rests, cup holders . . . nirvana! But it's not how we sit and doesn't offer much flexibility in seat selection, so . . . unappealing.

Sarahlynn said...

Kim, I found a couple of pictures of the Kangaroo booster online and checked out the recall. I don't really see why they're more dangerous than a backless booster wrt belt positioning. We use a special strap to keep the belt down off Ellie's neck, anyway.

Eventually we'll move full time to a plain old booster seat that positions the child and car's seat belt's appropriately. But for now, the safety harness is safer and not really harder to use than a booster seat. Either way, Ellie would prefer not to have to sit on them. :-)

Kristi said...

Agreed that they're a pain. We have already hit the carpool stage with our daughter in soccer and Daisies. I know a few moms with big "soccer mom" cars who keep a few extra booster seats for the extra kids (or have them from siblings who are not currently in the car). The backless kind run about $10-15 each and are painless to use.

My 5-year old is only 35 pounds, so she uses a booster with a full back (but the car's seatbelt), but I don't say anything if she uses a backless booster in someone else's car. My youngest sister (14 years old next month) is up to about 80 pounds and 4'10 (I'm one of the taller girls in the family at 5'4"). My mom finally stopped having her use a booster seat when she was 11, even though she didn't yet meet the height/weight requirements.

The booster is intended to place the car's seatbelt straps safely across her body and not her face and neck. Safety seats frequently are designed to keep the kids safe from the car's own "safety" equipment. I don't know why car manufacturers aren't required to simply design car seats and seat belts for children as well as adults, instead of making us buy an assortment of boosters and seats and harnesses every couple of years (some of which don't even work in some cars).

Sarahlynn said...

"I don't know why car manufacturers aren't required to simply design car seats and seat belts for children as well as adults"

EXACTLY! Especially because many seat belts don't work safely for ME, either. At 5'4" tall, I'm an average sized adult woman, normally proportioned. But shoulder straps - even the adjustable ones - routinely fit across my neck unless I use one of those little strap dealies.

Ibrahimblogs said...

What you witnessed must have been scary. I hope parents are more careful!!

Keep sharing!!

This is Ibrahim from Israeli Uncensored News

flatflo said...

We all used seat belts as kids, but I have no recollection of baby seats or booster seats, even for my younger sister. We would even all fight for who got front seat. Amazing how times have changed.

Sarahlynn, what the heck is that contraption you have pictured? I am imagining a set of seat for sextuplets, to be bolted into a cargo van?

Sarahlynn said...

Isn't that hilarious? Google image search led me to an ad for something callled a "4-seater Car Seat" that promises to let you keep "the car you love" while still safely conveying a bevy of children:

Best of all: rear-facing until they're three! For safety! (sarcasm)

Carmie said...

Oh, I had no idea. We're pregnant with our first child and I am now picturing the next ten years of extra buckling devices? Great...

The person with the idea for the car manufacturers to come up with a pre-installed booster is fantastic. I would definitely buy that car over any other, already.

Sarahlynn said...

Carmie, some minivans have booster/older toddler car seats built right in and if I had it to do over, I'd buy one of those!

We once rented a small charter bus for a family vacation and it had boosters built in. Ellie loved it and so did I! (Ada was still in an infant seat at the time.)

Carmie said...

Aw man...then does this mean I'm getting a minivan? ;)

Sarahlynn said...

I've heard people say they covet minivans! Not I. I came into minivan ownership begrudgingly. And just as reluctantly I admit that it's the nicest car I've ever owned. Still, I dislike driving it when the kids aren't with me.

(We didn't take the plunge until Paul totaled his Jimmy when our second was a newborn and we were planning a couple thousand miles of road trips over the next few months. It's worked out great for us.)

brooke said...

i'm late getting to this.. but the height thing is bad, at least for me. i'm 4'8" tall. there is a commercial that says something about "you have to be 4'9" tall to not be in a car seat".. just hearing that i always think "so, i should be in a car seat.. in the drivers seat?" i agree we need to be safe, but the statement of the laws need to take into account the diversity of the human body. also - 13 before a kid can ride in the front seat? that's insane. or even worse - until they are 16?!? that's really insane. i think there is safety and then there is paranoia. at what point do some of the safety laws cross into paranoia?

and no - i don't have kids, but i do have children that ride in my car that, while i can't love as though they are my own because they aren't - i still love them more than my heart can imagine. i wouldn't want anything to happen to them, of course, but i also want them to recognize balance in being safe and human.

Sarahlynn said...

Brooke, exactly! It's like if you say, "But it's to protect our children!!!" then anyone who tries to examine the issue critically is endangering children or doesn't care about the safety of children or whatever. We've burdened this whole conversation with judgmental language and paranoia.