18 Feb 2016 The importance of car seats
by Katelin Whiddon
We all reminisce about the lax car seat laws (or lack thereof) of years past. I grew up hearing many stories about riding in the back window, backwards in a station wagon or in the bed of a truck. But things have changed so much over the years in terms of child safety seat rules and regulations.
Car seat laws vary from state to state, and some states have stricter guidelines than others. Unfortunately, Arkansas has very loosely defined car seat laws. While we follow the guidelines the state of Arkansas gives us, as healthcare providers, we also follow recommendations of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). It is my hope that in the near future, those AAP recommendations will become Arkansas law as they have in other states.
Arkansas law requires children to ride “in an appropriate child safety restraint until they are at least 6 years of age or 60 pounds.” We recommend that children remain in an appropriate car seat until 6 years AND 60 pounds (not either/or).
Children should remain in a five-point harness (snaps across the chest and in between the legs) until they are 4 years old AND 40 pounds. While the requirement for remaining rear facing is 1 year old AND 20 pounds, the American Academy of Pediatrics strongly recommends that children remain rear facing until at least 2 years of age.
Be sure to check the sticker on your child’s car seat for its height/weight rating for both rear and forward facing positions. Never use a car seat outside of its recommendations. If you are concerned that a child is too big to fit in their car seat or remain rear facing, consider a different type of car seat. There are hundreds on the market and many go up to 100-plus pounds.
When fastening your child in their car seat, be sure the chest clip is at the armpit level and the straps are tight against your child. The straps should be tight enough that you cannot grab the straps and pull them from the child’s chest.
Another commonly unknown safety tip focuses on coats and thick clothing. In winter, do not put your children in their car seat with their coats on. You can lay a blanket or coat over your child once they are securely fastened to keep them warm.
Even at slower speeds, children can be ejected in a collision when they are fastened in their car seat with thick coats or clothing. Also, never place an infant in the car seat wrapped in a blanket.
When using car seats, following laws and recommendations is imperative, but proper installation and use is vital as well. Many local police or fire departments and pediatrician’s offices have certified car seat specialists that will be glad to ensure your car seat is appropriate and secured properly.
Arkansas Children’s Hospital will also do free car seat inspections upon appointment. Call 501.364.1100 to speak to someone at Arkansas Children’s Hospital about scheduling a free car seat inspection, or check with your healthcare provider’s office.
Car seats help protect the most precious cargo — our children.
A native of Conway, Katelin Whiddon is a family nurse practitioner at Central Arkansas Pediatrics. She and her husband, Daniel, have two daughters. A graduate of the University of Central Arkansas, she has her bachelor’s and master’s degrees.