Parents all over the world strive to keep their children safe at all times. However, car accidents frequently cause children to be the victims of fatal and non-fatal injuries in the United States. Whereas the rate of injury and deaths are lower in some other countries. This begs the question, what global car seat safety lessons can the U.S. learn from other countries?
Parents can learn how to minimize the danger their child is exposed to while they are in the back seat. For instance, you must buy an appropriate car seat for your child, install that car seat correctly, and ensure your child uses a car seat until they pass the 5-step seat belt fit test, usually when they are taller than four feet, nine inches.
The Safety of Children Relies on Changing How We Use Child Safety Seats
Parents must install child safety seats properly in order to keep your child safe. A car seat should be snug enough that it remains stationary (moves less than one inch). The harness straps should be tightened securely around your child. Newborns and infants should be seated in rear-facing car seats preferably until they turn four years old. Children between the ages of one and four are much more likely to be injured in serious car crashes if they are restrained by front-facing car seats.
It may seem unnecessary to wrestle your child into a rear-facing car seat if they are more than a year old, but research from Sweden shows that rear-facing car seats are safer for children who are four years old or younger. To keep your child most safe, you should follow the car seat safety techniques that parents in Sweden use.
Sweden: A Road Safety Role Model
Sweden has fewer infant fatalities caused by car accidents. They implemented a number of changes that improved the safety of infants and adults on the road. The number of accidents caused by drunk driving in Sweden is much lower compared to the United States. Sweden only allows a legal blood alcohol content (BAC) level of .02. In the U.S., the legal blood alcohol content a driver can have while driving a car is .08.
Swedish drivers have a much smaller margin for error with regard to being charged for a DUI in comparison to U.S. drivers. This has made a definite impact. It is one method that would improve road safety of adults and infants in the United States.
Sweden also lowered speed limits in urban areas (from 31 miles per hour). They outlawed turning while pedestrians are crossing the street regardless of where a pedestrian is located in a crosswalk.
Roundabouts are more common in Sweden now than they were a few years ago. They have started to replace traditional intersections. Roundabouts require drivers to reduce their speed and yield to cars that have already entered a roundabout. Ultimately, reducing the speed at which you travel reduces the risk that you or your child will be fatally injured, if you do get into an accident.
Safety experts consider Sweden one of the world’s road safety darlings. This is because they implemented a multi-faceted approach to reduce the number of annual car-related road fatalities. The United States can apply the road safety lessons from Sweden and other European countries to make urban and rural streets safer to drive on.
Car Seat Safety Techniques Used in Europe
Numerous other countries applied car seat safety laws and techniques to improve the safety of children and adults in a moving vehicle. Two such countries that also have low mortality rates with regard to car-related fatalities include the U.K. and Denmark.
In the United Kingdom, children are legally required to use a car seat until they are 12 years old or until they have reached a height of 4 feet, 5 inches. Child seat safety manufacturers in Britain produce child safety seats that accommodate children up to 12 years old. Retailers advise parents use child restraints until a child is 5 feet or taller, even though the law says otherwise.
In addition, the U.K. created a smart highway to catch speeders driving over the speed limit of 70 mph. This will reduce the number of reckless drivers on the M1 Highway. The M1 Smart Highway caught more than 8,382 people speeding in 2017. When people drive at a higher speed, they are more likely to suffer a fatal car accident. Smart highways and strict car seat laws have reduced the number of infant fatalities that occur annually in the U.K.
Denmark is another European country that has made a number of changes to improve road safety for their residents. They have a logical system that requires children of a certain height, weight, and age to be in an appropriate car seat based upon their height, weight, and age. Like Sweden, Denmark has also started to replace traditional intersections with roundabouts.
Denmark has been particularly dedicated to improving road safety and the EU’s 12th Annual Road Safety Performance Index Report reflects that as their road death rate per million road inhabitants fell from 46.1 to 31.8 from 2010 to 2017.
Sweden is kind of considered the gold standard for car seat safety. They have virtually no children die in traffic incidents. (As a matter of fact in 2013 Sweden only had a total of 264 traffic related deaths — that’s 3 per 100,000 Swedes compared to 11.4 per 100,000 in the US.)
What do they do differently? In Sweden parents practice what we in the U.S. call “extended rear-facing” until age 4 or 5 even though there isn’t actually a law requiring them to do so. Since it’s the cultural norm, kids don’t protest it there as many parents in the U.S. report their kids do here. U.S. parents also worry about their child’s legs being too long. This is not really a cause for concern. There is not a single documented case of children’s legs, hips, etc. breaking or being injured in a crash due to longer rear facing
Download our report: Common Car Seat Mistakes and How to Fix Them
After being rear facing, Swedish children typically move into a high-back booster. Research in Sweden shows the harness system may put more load on the neck by restraining the rest of the body. Whereas when using a seat belt the body moves more allowing the child to ride down the crash while spreading forces across more of the body. This is why they typically skip a forward-facing 5-point harness.
We Need to Follow Europe’s Lead
To reduce our children’s risk, all U.S. states should extend the age for which a child is legally required to be restrained by a child restraint. Many state car seat laws only require a child use a child restraint up to age eight. In a few states it’s even younger. Most state seat belt laws require a seat belt to be used in all seating positions by all passengers. Children older than eight are then required to use a seat belt.
However, at age eight many children are not big enough to properly fit in a seat belt. Sometimes children don’t fit into a seat belt until age 12, or even 14. Since these older children are not legally required to use a child restraint, they often don’t. And since they also don’t properly fit the seat belt, they are more likely to suffer an injury.
(We recommend putting the child through the 5-step seat belt fit test. Typically a child needs to be 4 foot 9 inches to decently fit an adult seat belt.)
States that allow children between the age of 8 and 14 to sit in the back seat without using a child safety seat should re-examine their child car seat safety laws.
Individual states in the U.S. need to take the initiative to reduce child injuries and fatalities caused by car crashes. To make our young ones safer when you’re behind the wheel, states can:
- lower speed limits in urban areas,
- replace traditional intersections with roundabouts,
- and revise their child restraint laws to better match best practice standards.
Guest post: Jay Solnick is the Managing Partner of Solnick & Associates, LLC. Jay defends car crash victims in Pennsylvania and would like to see strict child seat safety laws adopted by each U.S. state.
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