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Hidden danger causes child car seats to malfunction

Most parents in New York are aware that child car seats are mandatory. Upon buying their first car seat for an infant, the anxious new parents carefully read the instructions about proper installation. They find that children under two years of age should ride in a rear-facing child safety seat in the back seat of the vehicle—in the middle, if possible. The manufacturer's instructions contain the latest recommendations for child safety.

Some parents may not understand the law of inertia. All occupants of a moving vehicle are also moving at the same rate of speed. If a car suddenly stops, any unrestrained passengers will continue to move forward until stopped by a dashboard or possibly by the front windshield. The impact can throw those in the back seat into hard objects in the front of the vehicle or eject them out of the car through cracked doors or windows.

When good intentions go wrong

Even when parents followed instructions to the letter, children were still sometimes slipping out of their safety seats and sustaining serious injury. Researchers could not understand what went wrong. The parents had placed the child correctly in the safety seat, correctly secured both the seat and the child's harness, and cinched the straps holding the child as instructed.

Safety analysts turned their attention to the car seat manufacturing industry. The seat design and materials used in construction followed best practices. Investigators could find no reason why the seats were not performing as they should. A five-year study sponsored by the NYC government showed that car accidents were the second leading cause of unintentional death to New York's children. Fatality rates were highest in Queens, followed by The Bronx.

A hidden danger revealed

Researchers concluded that the child safety seat manufacturers were not to blame, and the parents were also not to blame. Yet some children continued to slip out of car safety seats in a vehicle accident, suffering grave and sometimes fatal injuries. After exhaustive studies, industry experts discovered that a simple factor was hiding in plain sight: puffy winter coats. When a child wears a puffy winter coat in a safety seat, the fabric pushes the harness away from the child's body just enough to loosen the protective straps.

Parents should remove the child's winter coat, then strap their child into the safety seat. After they cinch down the restraining straps, they should pinch the harness fabric; if they can pinch an inch, the harness is still too loose. After the child is safely secured and cinched in place correctly, the parent can place the coat and a warm blanket over the top of the child, then put the child's winter coat back on when it is time to exit the car.

Certain types of crashes present a threat to all passengers, such as side-impact intrusions. Family members and passengers should always wear their seat belts. Providing a good example will help growing children learn that seat belt protection is not optional.

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