1- We didn’t even have car seats when I was a kid, and we’re still alive!
All the kids whose lives might have been saved by car seats are not here to argue with you on this one. In 1975 in the US, 1,384 child passengers were killed in motor vehicle collisions. In 2015, 663 child passengers died. You can do the math … not only did fewer children die in 2015, but with the population increase since the 70s, that’s a rate of 30.2 deaths per million children down to 12.6 per million. (View full stats here.)
If your grandpa smoked a pack a day for fifty years and died of natural causes at 100, would you declare it safe for your child to take up smoking?
Yes, I know, millennial parents get a bad rap for being overprotective. I can think of many ways in which this is true. Kids need to experience risk, make judgment calls and get hurt so that they can learn their own boundaries and keep themselves safe when they’re out of your care. But using the right car seat and using it properly is not about preventing a skinned knee or hurt feelings. It’s about saving a child’s life or preventing catastrophic injury.
Being overprotective of our children can be problematic, but using car seats correctly is not overprotectiveness. If you decide, as an adult, not to wear your seat belt when you drive, that’s on you. But children deserve to ride in the safest way possible, which is in the back seat, in a properly installed and properly used car seat or booster seat, or in a properly fitting adult seat belt.
2- My kid is the size of an adult: he can sit in the front seat.
How many warning labels do parents see throughout the day? Don’t put your hot coffee in a cup holder right above your child’s head in their stroller! Don’t dive into the kiddie pool! Don’t use the high chair as a car seat! Don’t put your baby in this box! That plastic bag is not a toy!
We see so many of them that it’s hard not to roll our eyes … how stupid do they think we are? I mean, I am distressed that my flat iron must remind me not to try to straighten my eyelashes and that my blow dryer warns me not to use it in the bathtub. In our litigious and in many instances overprotective society, it’s easy to turn a blind eye to those ubiquitous yellow and red warning labels.
So let’s say that you are suddenly blessed with psychic abilities, and you know that you are about to be in an unavoidable collision. The only thing you can control is where you will be seated in the vehicle. Where would you sit?
No matter their age or size, the back seat is the safest spot for passengers. But there are two reasons why all vehicles state that children 12 and under should sit in the back seat:
- Airbags can kill children in otherwise survivable collisions.
- Seat belts are designed for adults—whose bone structures are fully developed and can withstand the force of a seat belt in the event of a collision—not adult-sized children.
When there is a rear seating position available, seat your pre-teen in the back. Your vehicle manual will specify that if a child younger than 13 must sit in the front, the seat should be as far back from the airbag as possible
3- Kids in school buses don’t even have seat belts! (Subtext: So why are we stressing about their car seats?)
Think about how many motor vehicle wrecks you’ve driven past in your lifetime. Think about all the people you know who’ve been in a collision of some kind in their personal vehicle. In 2015 alone, there were 1,858 motor vehicle fatalities in Canada. In the 10-year span between 1995 and 2004, there were 142 fatalities in school bus collisions, but of those 142 deaths, only 5 victims were school-bus riders. As grim as it might sound, where would you rather be in a collision: in the sedan or on the school bus? [source]
According to Transport Canada:
“School buses are simply the safest way to transport children to school. The size and weight of the vehicle and the safety features designed into it offer substantial protection to bus occupants in a collision. Despite the large number of children transported and the distances travelled, serious injuries and fatalities are very rare. In fact, less than 0.02 per cent of all Canadian road deaths involve an occupant of a school bus.”
Cub will start taking the bus to school in September, and we attended an orientation, during which I got to ride on a school bus for the first time in a long time. Those things are like tanks! If my son has to be in a collision, I’d much rather him be unrestrained but on the school bus than restrained in a car seat in our vehicle, if all other factors are equal. He has a much higher chance of being injured in the car-ride to school with me at the wheel than on his school bus.
School buses are safe for children because of something called compartmentalization.
“The key to compartmentalization is that the back of each seat is padded and is a specific distance from the seat behind it. If the bus comes to a sudden stop, the padded seat back absorbs the forward energy of the child seated behind. Without a seat belt, the child’s body slides forward and hits the seat back in such a way as to distribute the force of the impact over the entire upper body. If a lap belt were used, the child’s body might pivot on the belt, focusing the force of the blow onto the head and neck. And if the seat belt is not worn correctly (it should be worn low on the hips) the stomach or spine might be damaged.”
For toddlers and babies that ride a school bus, yes, they should be in car seats. Did you know that since 2007, all newly built buses must have a minimum amount of lower anchors and tethers for child seats?
4- I’m an excellent driver. I’m not worried about keeping my kids in car seats.
Most definitely, being a good driver helps keep you, your passengers and other road users safe. But if you are a good driver, you probably also notice what terrible drivers you have to share the road with. People drive drunk. People drive distracted. People aren’t prepared to drive in bad weather. You cannot control the behaviour of others or of mother nature while you drive: using car seats, boosters and vehicle seat belts properly is one thing you can control.
5- I guess I should be in a booster seat! I don’t even meet the 5-step criteria!
Every time I read posts about when a child can safely move from the booster-phase to the seat-belt phase, I guarantee there will be at least a few people calling BS on the 5-Step test. “I’m an adult and I don’t even sit properly for the whole ride!” Or, “My grandma is the size of my grade-schooler … do I have to buy her a booster seat?”
As an adult you should be setting the example for your kids by sitting properly for the whole trip. I have not been good at this in the past. From reclining my seat all the way back for a nap to putting my feet up on the dash, I’m quite simply lucky that we never got into a collision while I was improperly seated.
As for seat-belt fit on adults, this echoes what I said earlier about the back seat being the safest spot in the car: even if an adult has the body shape and size of a preteen, they have the bones of an adult. Furthermore, some adults absolutely do need adaptations in their vehicles in order to safely use their seat belts.
6- It’s way too uncomfortable for older kids to remain rear-facing! It’s boring for kids to rear-face!
Best practice is to keep a child rear-facing until a minimum of age 2. This has become law in many states, and manufacturers such have Evenflo are now producing seats that can only be used forward-facing once a child is 2. Surpassing the minimum age is awesome: if your child can remain rear-facing till they outgrow their seat in rear-facing mode, do it! We put our son forward-facing at age 2½. His seat took up a lot of room rear-facing, and with the arrival of his baby sister, who would need a rear-facing seat, it made sense for our vehicle. He was also precariously close to the weight maximum for his seat at that age! Little Miss Cub is much smaller than her brother, so she will be rear-facing until at least age 3.
In terms of comfort, have you seen how kids sit? They are flexible and are comfortable in a variety of positions that look horrendous to adults. Kids with long legs may dangle them over the sides of the seat, bend them or butterfly sit. The recline of a rear-facing seat makes for a much more comfortable sleep for most kids, too. Another advantage to sitting rear-facing is that when they have a soft toy in their hands and drop it, it falls into their lap rather than onto the floor of the vehicle in front of them. (“MOOOOOM! CAN YOU PASS ME MY TOY!!!!”) A frequent complaint for forward-facing children is that their legs are uncomfortable dangling over the edge of their seat. This is not a problem rear-facing!
In terms of how “boring” it is to sit rear-facing, my son, who is almost 5 now, keeps asking to sit “backwards” like his sister. Many seats have a tall enough base that a rear-facing child can still see out the window and, depending on the vehicle, out the back window of the car. They can still see the cows or the passing fire truck just fine. We are driving from Calgary to Vancouver this summer, and I’m confident both of my children—one rear-facing and one forward-facing— will at some point find themselves bored …
So why do we keep arguing?
As someone who avoids conflict at all costs, I don’t know the answer to this. I think that we all feel defensive when our parenting is called into question. There are so many parenting decisions we make that are just that: decisions. We all make different choices on how to feed our kids, how to discipline them and how to educate them, and with the exception of extreme cases, these choices are not universally right or wrong. I have chosen to breastfeed my children well past what others might consider “normal,” and let me tell you that I get all kinds of crazy defensive when someone calls that into question!
But using car seats correctly isn’t a subjective thing. It can be a frustratingly complex thing, but we can all learn to do it correctly to keep our kids as safe as possible in our vehicles.
Every time a picture or video goes viral on Facebook showing a child in a car seat, I hesitate to open the comments. I know there will be a vicious smackdown between those wanting to correct whatever may or may not be wrong with how the child is seated and those who find the “corrective” comments sanctimonious (which they often are). What is the right way to address this? I think that’s a subject for a whole other blog post. (One I will eventually write.)
All I know is that I have deep regrets about how incorrectly my children’s seats have been installed in the past, and I wish that I had known better sooner. I am grateful that we have never been in a collision with the kids in the car. Because I have the privilege of a large audience of parents, I hope to disseminate the information I’ve learned since becoming a Child Passenger Safety Technician so that parents know where to find it.
While there are many legitimate arguments regarding car seat safety that I am happy to either debunk or resolve, the arguments above are simply not valid ones, and only serve to encourage misuse or mock those whose sincerest intention is to make children safer in vehicles. The thing is, if you’ve read this far into my post, you probably already agreed with me before you even started reading. (Yay! Confirmation bias!)
If you see someone making the arguments above on social media, you’re unlikely to change their mind by getting into a commenting war anyway … so whether you want to try or not is up to you. Ultimately, unless you are in law enforcement or child protective services, what someone else does with their child and their vehicle is none of your business.
Be a lighthouse: share best-practices information with those who are interested, and advocate for government and health services to update and improve the information they currently provide. Finger-pointing and finger-wagging is unlikely to improve a family’s car seat usage, so just point a finger at yourself to show that you are available to help when desired!