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For drivers with kids, every week is Child Passenger Safety Week

If you missed your chance to take advantage of National Car Seat Check day on Saturday, don't worry: Chicago area fire departments and police stations conduct demonstrations and help to install car seats and booster seats year-round. Technicians are available in other places, too, to make sure your car seat is doing its job. (Find a location near you at SafeCar.gov.) Even if you are confident that you have followed all of the instructions down to the last detail, the check is worth the time. It could save your child's life.

Take your kids with you. Keeping your children safe isn't just a matter of installing the seat correctly. The child must also be correctly positioned and restrained in the seat. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Association, only 25 percent of car seats are both installed correctly and used properly.

Research has shown that motor vehicle accidents are the second most common cause of death among children between ages 4 and 10. Using child restraint systems correctly, though, could reduce the number of serious and fatal injuries among infants by 71 percent, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. For grade-school-age kids, the CDC reports a 45 percent reduction.

You will need to know your child's height and weight when you are choosing a car seat. Generally, there are four different types of restraint systems, each appropriate for children in a particular age and weight bracket.

  • Rear-facing car seats: Appropriate for infants, up to the limit specified by the manufacturer (usually for kids up to age 1)
  • Forward-facing car seats with five-point harness system: Appropriate for young children, up to manufacturer's limits (usually for kids between 1 and 7 years old)
  • Booster seats: Appropriate for older children, until they reach weight and height limits for seat belts
  • Seat belts: Appropriate for children at least 57 inches tall (4' 9") who weigh between 80 and 100 pounds

Even if you don't like to stop to ask for directions, you should always start the installation of a car seat by reading the manufacturer's instructions. You can double check those instructions against your car manual, too: Manuals often include information about the safest placement in a particular vehicle model. And, when your child is grown up enough to use a seatbelt, make sure the lap belt is snug across the child's upper thighs and not crossing the child's neck or face.

One last point: Keep your kids in the back seat until age 12 or so.

Source: Chicago Tribune, "Child Passenger Safety Week raises awareness for what most parents get wrong," Robert Duffer, Sept. 16, 2014

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