Thursday, February 23, 2012

Transitioning to a booster seat

The World Health Organization notes that nearly one million children die each year across the globe as a result of unintentional accidents. Car crashes are the leading cause of unintentional accidents, annually causing 260,000 fatalities and around 10 million injuries.

Though invented in 1921, child seats were rarely used in the ensuing decades. When child seats were used, their function was largely one of transportation and not safety. It wasn't until roughly 40 years later that child seats became more prevalent and their focus shifted toward protecting children. In 1962, Denver's Leonard Rivkin invented seats aimed at protecting a child. Tennessee became the first American state to require use by law.

Many safety seats on the market today are designed to keep children safe at different age and weight levels. However, for many parents this can be misleading, considering the purpose of some seats is to raise up a child to a height where the child is able to use the vehicle's safety belts in proper position, as is the case with belt-positioning booster seats.

A booster seat is designed to sit a child who is roughly four years old and weighs at least 40 pounds, though height isn't factored into the equation. Some children exceed the weight or height of a convertible or standard five-point-harness seat, but may not be mature enough or of the age to move into a booster seat. Parents are often left with questions of how to remedy this situation.

It is important to keep a toddler or preschooler in a forward-facing harnessed seat as long as possible. Today there are many safety seat manufacturers that have realized the health benefits that these seats provide, including their capacity to prevent injury. There are seats available that can accommodate children up to 80 or 100 pounds and may be an option before moving to a booster seat.

If a child is mature enough, meaning he or she doesn't try to escape the seat or wriggle around and slump, the child may be ready to move into a booster seat. A high-back booster seat is one that can be used if the car has low seat backs or no head rests. It helps to properly align the shoulder strap of a lap/shoulder strap combination, which may also prevent slouching. Booster seats may start at a minimum weight of 30 to 33 pounds. However, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration recommends waiting until the child is 40 pounds and four years of age before transitioning to a booster seat. That is unless the child has simply outgrown the car seat, meaning the straps don't fit correctly, shoulders are higher than the harnesses, and feet dangle too far over the edge of the seat.

The American Academy of Pediatrics also says it is best for children to ride in a seat with a harness as long as possible, at least to four years of age. If your child outgrows his seat before reaching turning four, consider using a seat with a harness approved for higher weights and heights. They also say that all children whose weight or height is above the forward-facing limit for their car safety seat should use a belt-positioning booster seat until the vehicle seat belt fits properly, typically when they have reached four feet in height and are between eight and 12 years of age. In Canada, children under the age of eight who weigh 18 kg or more but less than 36 kg (40-80 lbs.), and who stand less than 145 cm (57 inches or 4 feet, 9 inches) must travel in a booster seat that meets the requirements of Canadian Motor Vehicle Safety Standards.

Understanding safety seats can be confusing to some parents. When in doubt, check with a hospital, pediatrician or even a police station for determining the right seat for use.

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