To understand why the safety of child passengers should be a priority for every responsible adult, consider the following scenario: In a crash at 30 miles an hour, an unrestrained 10-pound baby would be torn from its parent's arms and hurled into the dash or windshield with a sledgehammer force of 300 pounds.
That gory description can be found in the "childsafety" link in the Ohio Department of Public Safety's Web site. And while it does assault the senses, the message it conveys is important and urgent: Seat belts save lives, especially young lives.
Fortunately, the message is hitting home. According to a survey by the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration, seat belt use for children is at a record high. As a result, child deaths in auto crashes are declining -- in 2001, 1,246 children 12 and under died in accidents, compared with 1,395 in 1998.
The national safety administration found that 99 percent of infants, 94 percent of 1- to 3-year-olds and 83 percent of 4- to 7-year-olds were belted in. The agency surveyed 38,000 vehicles at 1,100 intersections around the country last year.
But the good news is tempered with the reality that too many infants and young children continue to be in harm's way because they are placed in the front seat.
"There are new parents every day, and even those old parents who need to be reminded: The only way to keep these children safe is to put them in a child safety seat appropriate to their age in the back seat," says Dr. Jeffrey Runge, NHTSA's chief.
When correctly used, child passenger safety seats are 71 percent effective in reducing fatalities; 67 percent effective in reducing the need for hospitalization; and 50 percent effective in preventing minor injuries. Even so, in Ohio, a recent report showed that only 47.6 percent of children were restrained in child safety seats or safety belts.
There is no lack of information, guidance and advice available to adults pertaining to the proper care of children in automobiles. For instance, here are three common and highly dangerous errors made: using a rear-facing infant seat that is positioned so it faces the front of the vehicle; not putting harness systems on a child or not making the harness snug enough; using an automobile safety belt system with a safety seat without reviewing the vehicle manufacturer's instructions on properly installing a child safety seat.