On the Road: Take steps for child vehicle safety
On the Road
Once you see something, you can’t “unsee” it. I learned this lesson quickly as a young trooper with the state patrol.
Over the last seven years I’ve investigated plenty of horrific crash scenes. Unfortunately, some of these crashes have involved the death of children. Growing up during the 1980s, I remember lying across the back seat of my parent’s Oldsmobile during long road trips to catch a nap. In fact, I don’t think the back seats were even equipped with shoulder harnesses. Different era. Different times.
Flash forward to October 2017. The U.S. Department of Transportation released final traffic fatality figures for the 2016 calendar year. 37,461 people were killed in crashes on U.S. roadways.
The number of child fatalities ages 16 and younger increased by 6.3 percent. If a vehicle overturns during a crash and child passengers are unrestrained, they will most likely be killed. It is that cut and dry. Those who survive will face physical challenges for years to come.
Colorado’s child seatbelt laws are considered primary violations. They are broken into four age groups and restraint systems:
• Newborn to age 1: Rear Facing Car Seat
• Age 1 to 3: Forward Facing Car Seat
• Age 4 to 7: High Back or Backless Booster Seats
• Age 8 to 15: Lap and Shoulder Harnesses
So what exactly is a “child restraint system?” Colorado Revised Statutes state the following:
• C.R.S. 42-4-236 (1) (a.5): “Child restraint system” means a specially designed seating system that is designed to protect, hold, or restrain a child in a motor vehicle in such a way as to prevent or minimize injury to the child in the event of a motor vehicle accident that is permanently affixed to such a vehicle by a safety belt or a universal attachment system, and that meets the federal motor vehicle safety standards.
Children come in all shapes and sizes and grow at different rates. As a result, sometimes it is difficult to choose your restraint system strictly on age. Colorado law addresses this issue, to an extent. Infants up to age 1 should remain in a rear facing seat until they weigh at least 20 pounds. Children ages 1 to 3 should remain in forward facing seats until they weigh at least 40 pounds. If a child is 4 years old and still meets the weight limit for their forward facing seat, they should continue to utilize it. For booster seats, you should follow the manufacturer’s weight limit specifications before upgrading your child to a lap and shoulder harness.
If your child has reached the age of 8, but you are uncertain if they are ready to graduate to a lap and shoulder harness, take this five question survey found on carseatscolorado.com:
Does the child sit all the way back against the vehicle seat?
Do the child’s knees bend comfortably at the edge of the vehicle seat?
Does the belt cross the shoulder between the neck and arm?
Is the lap belt as low as possible, touching the thighs?
Can the child stay seated like this for the whole trip?
If you answered “no” to any of these five questions, you should still utilize a booster seat.
Following the seat manufacturer’s installation instructions, as well as your vehicle’s owner manual, is critical to ensuring your child’s safety. If you are uncertain, seek input from local first responders in your community. Many fire departments and law enforcement agencies have child safety seat technicians with specialized training.
Avoid purchasing used child seats at garage sales or second-hand websites. You cannot be sure what type of stress, damage or abuse they’ve sustained. A damaged child seat could result in structural failure during a crash.
With the holiday season upon us, remember to never operate a vehicle under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Ask yourself: Is it worth the loss of a child’s life?
Trooper Kefren Tester is a seven-year veteran assigned to the Colorado State Patrol’s Vehicular Crimes Unit in Glenwood Springs. The Vehicular Crimes Unit is responsible for investigating fatal and felony crashes throughout the state.