Have You Ever Heard of Seat Belt Syndrome?
What?! Seat belt syndrome? What is that?!
Before we get into explaining seat belt syndrome, let’s talk about safety tips.
We’ve all read the stats (and if you haven’t, read here) about injuries and deaths related to car seat misuse or lack of use. We know how low the percentage is of children who should be using child restraints and actually are.
First and foremost I want to make it clear, it is best and keeps your child safest if you:
- keep them in the appropriate child safety restraint for their size, weight and age
- keep them buckled in a lap/shoulder belt when they fit properly in the vehicle’s seat belt (read 5-step seat belt fit test)
- keep them in the back seat until they are at least 13 years old
Parents often ask Child Passenger Safety (CPS) Technicians, “how can I put my 6-year-old back into a booster seat? And why should I, he uses a seat belt?”
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration recommends that children should be in a child restraint like a RideSafer Travel Vest or booster seat until they are at least 8-years-old (really a bare minimum) and more preferably 4’9″ tall (often times around 10 or even 12 years old). The gold standard would be when the child passes the 5-step fit test.
When they reach this height, they should fit properly in the vehicle’s seat belt. But the big question is, WHY? Why should a child remain in a child restraint until this time? If you have a big enough why, you will follow through — with anything.
So Here’s the WHY
When children are not properly restrained, meaning they are in a lap-only belt, they are in an ill-fitting lap/shoulder belt or even if they moved the shoulder portion of the seat belt behind them or under their arm (whether in a booster seat or not) to keep it from rubbing their neck, they are at greater risk of seat belt syndrome.
To understand seat belt syndrome it is helpful to know some math. A simple equation can be applied to understand the amount of restraining force it takes to keep an occupant secured in their seat during a motor vehicle crash. Weight X Speed. That is the weight of the occupant times the speed the vehicle is traveling at the time of impact. An example would be a 40-pound child in a vehicle traveling at 30 miles per hour at the time of impact would require 1,200 pounds of restraining force to keep that child restrained during the crash.
An improperly restrained or unrestrained child would be propelled into the back of the front seat (as seen in the picture and the crash test video), the dash or windshield, another passenger or be thrown out of the vehicle via a window or sun-roof.
A child who is too small for the seat belt system often scrouches down so their knees reach the end of the seat; this moves the lap portion of the seat belt up to their abdomen and all that nice soft tissue. If they are in a lap-only belt or put the shoulder portion behind them or under their arm; they lose upper body restraint causing abdominal, spinal and/or head injuries.
This Part is a Must Read
This can get rather graphic (especially if you google seat belt syndrome images).
During a crash, using a lap-belt only or having the shoulder portion useless behind you, the body is propelled forward, jack-knifing over the lap-belt causing serious internal injuries.
Then the head strikes the back of the front seat, rolling backward as the body continues in its downward arc, breaking the neck. The spine stretches and the spinal cord can be damaged. The 40-pound child in the example would sustain approximately 1,200 pounds of crushing force against their abdomen.
The child could sustain a lacerated liver, spleen or bowel, a ruptured bladder, and internal bleeding. Many of these internal injury symptoms don’t present themselves at the time of injury. An occult bleed may not be detected until hours after a crash.
There have been so many of these injuries to children and partially restrained adults that the medical community has named the group of common injuries “Seat Belt Syndrome”.
Download our report: Common Car Seat Mistakes and How to Fix Them
From what we, the technician community, have observed the group of children most likely to be at danger is the “booster age” child. That is roughly from 3 or 4 to 12 years old. The reasons for this could range from not wanting to buy yet another seat to the child feeling it’s “too baby” to sit in a seat.
Our oldest is 8 and 1/2 and he doesn’t think twice about it. We’ve always emphasized safety in the vehicle — to the point we can’t get out of the driveway without him telling us to buckle if we haven’t yet.
Booster seats are designed to lift the child up in an effort to make the child more adult like to fit the belt. The RideSafer Travel Vest is designed to make seat belt fit the child. In addition to that, the Ride Safer design also has energy absorbing components that absorb and spread that 1,200 pounds of force across a wider area of chest.
Read about another common seat belt injury: seat belt entanglement.
By Amie Durocher, Creative Director at Safe Ride 4 Kids and certified CPS Tech since 2004
Copyright 2014 Safe Ride 4 Kids. All rights reserved. You may not publish, broadcast, rewrite or redistribute this material without permission. You are welcome to link to Safe Ride 4 Kids or share on social media.
This post was originally published April 2013 and has been updated for accuracy and comprehensiveness.