The leading cause of death among children in the United States results from injuries sustained in car crashes. While tragic, this makes perfect sense. Study after study has shown that children who are correctly using car seats and proper restraint are at a much lower risk for sustaining fatal injuries in a car accident.
In the United States alone, over 600 children aged 12 and under died in car crashes. Over 121,000 were injured in car accidents. In one recent study, it was found that over 618,000 kids from newborns to age 12 were riding in vehicles without the use of any restraints or child safety seats. Out of all the children aged 12 or under that died in car accidents in 2014, a full 34% were not using a seat belt in any way.
Using the proper car seat for your child or children is the most effective way to reduce the chance of incapacitating injuries in a car accident, regardless of how the crash happens. For example, children receive the highest amounts of incapacitating injuries in accidents involving a vehicle rollover. Furthermore, it is estimated that unrestrained children receive over three times the amount of immobilizing injuries than properly restrained children do in rollover accidents. In side-impact accidents, unrestrained kids were eight times more likely to receive immobilizing injuries than those kids who were properly restrained with seat belts or child safety seats.
Among the injuries that are common for children in car crashes, head injuries are the most prevalent. In children under the age of one year, there is a higher incidence of head and thoracic (upper back/neck) injuries and resulting concussion, as well as lung injuries, most likely due to the lack of neck and upper back muscle development that would help protect older children in a car accident.
When children are injured in a car accident, it is not the same as when an adult is injured. Injuries that are not apparent immediately become apparent as the child’s brain grows and develops. This is when neurological problems arising from traumatic brain injury become evident. Therefore, any head injuries a child sustains in an accident must be monitored on a long-term basis.
For example, frontal lobe functions begin to develop late in a child’s growth, so a frontal lobe injury may not become apparent until the child approaches adolescence and puberty, and begins reasoning on a higher level. Social interaction and interpersonal skills also develop later in childhood, so these skills may not occur normally because of an early frontal lobe injury. The delay of reading and writing skills may also become evident as the child reaches school age. Most if not all of these delays in development of skills are not immediately apparent when an accident happens. The delay occurs simply because brain development needs to “catch up” to those areas that have been injured in the accident.
These types of delays can cause immense impairment not only to the child, but to their family, friends, school, and community as well. Oftentimes, the child appears to be developing normally, and then suddenly, changes occur. These changes may be intellectual, physical, emotional, and/or social. These changes are often unexplainable because no one is thinking about a brain injury that happened years ago. This creates frustration and a feeling of helplessness because a proper diagnosis cannot be made.
The most effective thing one can do to prevent an injury to a child in an auto accident is to make sure they are properly restrained. This means using an infant car seat, booster seat, or seat belt, depending on how old they are, how much they weigh, and how tall they are. Here are basic guidelines to follow:
A rear-facing car seat is the most effective protection for infants and toddlers. They should be in the car seat, in the back seat of the car until they reach 2 years old, or they reach the upper limit of height and weight, based on the car seat manual.
A forward-facing car seat is appropriate when your child outgrows their rear-facing child seat. Again, they should be buckled into the back seat of the vehicle until they reach the age or height/weight limits of the car seat, based on the car seat manual.
When your child outgrows his or her forward-facing car seat, they should use a booster seat until the seat belt fits them properly. A properly fitting seat belt will see the lap belt lying across the upper thighs, and the shoulder belt lying across the chest. Kids should always sit in the back seat whenever possible, as the back seat is safer for them overall.
To prevent accidents, and keep your child as safe as possible in the event of an accident, follow these tips:
Injuries and deaths due to accidents are preventable if you take the time to research and invest in the correct car safety seat, and practice the proper restraint techniques every time you drive.