By now, you’ve probably heard about the updates to Maryland’s Child Passenger Safety Law (PDF), which went into effect October 1st.
In general, the law requires that:
- every child under the age of eight ride in an “appropriate child restraint” (car seat, booster seat, etc.) until he or she is 4 feet 9 inches or taller; and
- every child between the ages of eight and 16 who is using a child restraint must use a seatbelt.
The law also recommends that all children under age 13 ride in the back seat, pointing out that the back seat is twice as safe for young passengers.
While a recent report from Safe Kids Worldwide found that proper car seat use has improved substantially over the past few decades, their data shows one area in particular needs attention: tether use.
The report states that “nearly three in four forward-facing seats did not use a top tether, a key protection against head injury in a crash. And among the 1 in 4 car seats that did have a tether, the tether was improperly attached 41% of the time.”
When we say tether, we’re referring to the strap at the top of a forward-facing car seat that attaches to an anchor point in the vehicle. In a crash or sudden stop, it keeps the top of the seat from pitching forward, reducing the risk of head injuries.
It’s easy to see how the top tether gets missed. Infants start out in rear-facing safety seats, so the top tether isn’t needed. Unless a parent attends a car seat check event or breaks out the owner’s manual when it’s time to turn the safety seat, the tether is likely to go unnoticed.
“It’s really no wonder the tether is so often overlooked by parents,” says Jo-Ellen Courtney, coordinator of Safe Kids New Hampshire. “To stop the tether from dangling, it’s been stored away, out of sight. For most rear-facing installations, we disregard the tether. Then when parents begin to use a forward-facing seat, we expect them to attach the tether. We have to identify better opportunities to alert and educate parents about tether use.”
Safe Kids recommends trying to remember it this way: “When your child turns two, you need something new.”
By age two, most children are ready for a front-facing safety seat. When you’re re-installing the seat so it’s forward-facing, be sure to secure the top tether. All cars sold in the United States after 2000 have an anchor for the top tether. If you have an older domestic vehicle, it can be retrofitted for free.
Concerned you might not be using your child’s car seat properly? Join Safe Kids Frederick County and the Mitsubishi Kids Safety First program for a free car seat check event (Facebook event link) on October 27th from 1:00 – 4:00 p.m. at Renn Kirby Mitsubishi. Appointments are available through the FMH Wellness Center, just call 240-566-6010 to schedule.
You can also run through this Safe Kids car seat safety checklist on your own. It takes about 15 minutes to inspect five key areas to keep your kids safe in the car.