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When a 5-year-old boy died in a car crash, he was buckled into an adult seat belt. "His parents mistakenly thought the state law, which only covered kids up to 4 years old, was equivalent with what is safest for children," says Laurie Flaherty, RN, MS, an emergency nurse at Suburban Hospital in Bethesda, MD, and traffic safety consultant with the Washington, DC-based National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).
The child’s mother was shocked to learn that her son should have been in a booster seat. "She was instrumental in passing Washington’s law, which requires kids up to 6 years old and 60 pounds to be placed in a booster seat instead of a seat belt," says Flaherty.
As an ED nurse, you see what happens when children are not properly restrained, says Flaherty. "You are a highly credible source of information on health maintenance and health protection. Use this influence to encourage use of car seats, which are proven to save lives and prevent injuries," she urges. Flaherty recommends taking advantage of "teachable moments" to give out information to parents and caregivers, even if the visit wasn’t injury-related. Here are the latest statistics about child passenger safety to share with parents, according to Flaherty:
• Children who weigh more than 40 pounds should not be in seat belts until they are approximately 4’9" and 80 pounds. Instead, they should be in a booster seat.
• The adult seat belt should be used only if the child can sit with their back straight against the vehicle seat cushion, with knees bent over the vehicle’s seat edge without slouching.
• If the shoulder belt crosses the child’s neck, they should be in a booster seat. It is not safe to place the shoulder belt under the arm or behind the child’s back.
• Children age 12 and younger are safest when they are properly restrained in the back seat.
• Over half of all child passenger fatalities were not restrained at all.
[Editor’s note: For more information on child passenger safety, contact Flaherty at Office of Communications and Outreach, US DOT/NHTSA, 400 Seventh St. S.W., NTS-22, Room 5119, Washington, DC 20590. Telephone: (202) 366-2705. Fax: (202) 366-6916. E-mail: email@example.com.]