Milestones for Children's Safety

Across the country children are returning to school after their summer vacations, one of many milestones children mark as they make their way to adulthood.  As children graduate from crawling to walking, from highchair to dining room chair, and from tricycle to bicycle, parents silently celebrate the attainment of each milestone.  But in the case of vehicle safety milestones, which are just as important to each child's well-being, many parents miss the important marks or graduate their children too soon. Both issues can put a child's safety at risk. Since vehicle crashes can happen to anyone, anytime, anywhere, it is important to help keep kids safe from the infant seat to the driver's seat, so parents should look at back-to-school time as an opportunity to evaluate and decide if their children are ready to move to the next vehicle safety milestone.

Motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for children older than the age of one, and many of these unnecessary injuries and deaths can be prevented through the use of age- and size-appropriate restraints and rear seating for children prior to the teen years. In order to protect children as they grow, State Farm and The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia recommend that parents enforce their children's safety restraint needs at the following milestones:

Preschool (approximately three to five years old) -- If the child is under four years old and weighs less than 40 pounds, he or she should ride in a child safety seat that has a five-point harness system. At 40 pounds, move him/her from a forward-facing child safety seat to a belt-positioning booster seat. The lap belt should rest comfortably below the hip bones, and the shoulder belt should be snug and cross the center of the child's shoulder. The child should remain in the booster seat until he/she is about eight years old or four feet nine inches tall.  (Note: you may feed and provide water to your child as she or he remains in the booster seat for that lengthy period of time.)

Elementary School (approximately five - 11 years old) -- If the child is under eight years old and under four feet nine inches tall, he/she should remain in a booster seat using a lap-and-shoulder seat belt. If the child is older than eight years old and over the four foot nine inch milestone, move him/her from the booster seat to a vehicle lap-and-shoulder seat belt in the back seat.

Middle School (approximately 11-14 years old) -- All children should remain in the back seat until the age of 13.  After that they can taste life from the front seat.

High School (approximately 14-18 years old) -- It is generally appropriate for teens to ride up front, but only if they are using lap and shoulder seat belts correctly. (And not if they are listening to loud music with inappropriate lyrics.) Whether the teen is a driver or passenger, he/she must use proper safety restraints at all times, which is not easy when you're a teen.

Parents play a critical role in shaping behavior and forming good habits. First, parents must make child passenger safety practices non-negotiable. Second, parents must demonstrate proper safety habits by always buckling up themselves since children tend to mimic the behaviors of those closest to them. Lastly, positive reinforcement promotes positive behaviors, as my wife could tell you.

Based in Cleveland, auto journalist Luigi Fraschini writes frequent about safety issues.