“We’re only going around the corner…”

“Sure, you can fit in, just sit on her lap…”

“Why don’t you double buckle…”

“Yeah, she can sit in a regular seat since it is such a short ride…”

I know all these lines. I’ve used them all too many times. For years, living in Israel, car seats just didn’t seem to be an option. After all, we didn’t own a car and what was I going to do…take a car seat with me in the cab and then carry it around all day while I shopped?

Child safety seats reduce the risk of death in passenger cars by 71% for infants, and by 54% for toddlers ages 1 to 4 yearsI thought I was pretty smart. I would put the baby in a front carrier and then put the seatbelt on across my chest. Or I would put my toddler on my lap and then the seatbelt around us both.

Here I was living in Israel, and would be nervous to board a bus or eat in the busy pizzeria because of terrorism, and yet I traveled with my children in a most dangerous and irresponsible way. And it is known that each year more people are killed in car accidents in Israel than from all the wars and all the terrorist attacks since the founding of the State. Fortunately, the ridiculousness of my actions, and the fact that in an accident my children would have been completely and totally unprotected, thank G‑d never was proven to me.

And yet, it is through the tragedy of others that I have learned from my mistakes and feel an obligation not only to change how I live my life, but to educate others as well. For I know that I am not the only one who uses the above excuses.

Now living in America, I have a minivan and it is equipped with car seats. And yet it is still so easy, when in a rush, to pull out of the driveway or parking space before ensuring that each child is completely buckled in. It can be so frustrating trying to get the belt to click over a heavy jacket or to ensure that the chest clip is fastened when a squirmy child doesn’t want to sit still. And of course, there is nothing like the hysterical child sobbing to sit in a big kid’s booster seat rather than a car seat or in a regular seat rather than the booster.

But as parents we know that doing the right thing isn’t always (if ever) the easiest thing. We are fortunate in America to live in a country that demands that we adhere to child safety in a car. And yet, even if that wasn’t the case, we have an obligation to protect our lives and those of our children. Not just a moral, ethical, instinctual one, but a Torah obligation.

According to the Code of Jewish Law, it is a positive duty to take all due precautions and avoid anything that may endanger life, for it is written in the Torah (Deuteronomy 4:9), "Guard yourself and guard your soul very much."

So please read the following statistics and facts carefully. Many you may have heard, some are less known, all are vital. Being more aware and educated could easily save the lives of our children:

When cars crash, the speeds involved usually mean severe impacts, which tragically can cause death and injury to people inside and outside the car. Of the children ages 0 to 14 years who were killed in motor vehicle crashes during 2005, nearly half were unrestrained. While unpleasant and truly sad to acknowledge, these frightening statistics become a wake-up call to the mom's and dad's driving with kids on a regular basis. Being aware of proper car seat rules is a critical key to keeping your family safe. Child safety seats reduce the risk of death in passenger cars by 71% for infants, and by 54% for toddlers ages 1 to 4 years.

A higher price does not mean the seat is safer or easier to useFor starters, no one seat is the "best" or "safest." The best seat is the one that fits your child's size, is correctly installed, and is used properly every time you drive. Keep the following in mind:

  • Don't decide on a car seat by price alone. A higher price does not mean the seat is safer or easier to use. All car safety seats available for sale in the United States must meet government safety standards.
  • When you find a seat you like, try it out. Put your child in it and adjust the harnesses and buckles. Make sure it fits properly and securely in your car.
  • Keep in mind that pictures or displays of car safety seats may not show them being used the right way.
  • Always use a car safety seat. Start with your baby's first ride home from the hospital.
  • Never place a child in a rear-facing car safety seat in the front seat of a vehicle that has a passenger air bag.
  • All children younger than 13 years are safest in the back seat.
  • Be a good role model—always wear your seat belt. This will help your child form a lifelong habit of buckling up.
  • Remember that each car safety seat is different. Read and keep the instructions that came with your seat handy, and always follow them.
  • Read your car owner's manual for information about installing your car safety seat.

Some facts…

  • Motor vehicle crashes are the number one killer of children between the ages of 3 - 14.
  • Car crashes kill more children each year then all childhood diseases combined.
  • Most fatal crashes occur at speeds less than 40 mph and within 25 miles of home.
  • In the United States, an average of 6 children 0-14 years old were killed and 673 were injured every day in motor vehicle crashes during 2004
  • Nationally, 9 out of every 10 car seats are being used improperly. Is yours one of them?

While these facts are scary, they can be avoided with proper precautions.

Did you know…

...that car seats and winter coats are not compatible?

Car seats and winter coats do not mix. Coats are warm, but they are also thick and bulky. It is virtually impossible to get the harness tight enough around a child who is wearing a coat. The harness is tightened to the coat, not the child. Remember, in order to protect the child, there must be only 1 finger's width between the harness straps and the child. The warm, fluffy coat is made of highly compressible material. In a crash, the coat will compress to a pancake and will leave the harness too loose, with more than 1 finger's width of room. There is an easy solution. Buckle your child into his car seat wearing regular clothes. Then cover him with blankets.

...that unrestrained items in your vehicle could pose a fatal danger in a crash?

Car crashes kill more children each year then all childhood diseases combinedAny item that is not tied down in your car, be it a book, your gym shoes, a sippy cup, soda can, ice scrapper, CD case, tissue box, etc., poses a significant danger. When you are in a crash, everything inside your vehicle that is not restrained is going to move at the speed you were traveling before the crash until something causes it to stop. If that "something" is your head or another part of your body, it can do serious damage. The same goes for unrestrained passengers. An unrestrained passenger can be thrown into a restrained passenger and cause serious or fatal injuries.

...that if you are in an accident you should replace your car seat?

In a crash, a car seat withstands a great deal of force. If you are in an accident and your car is damaged in any way, your seat should be replaced. Why? There may be unseen damage or weakening in the seat. In another crash, the seat may fail causing your child harm. Many times insurance will cover the cost of a new car seat. It is also a good idea to replace any seatbelts that were in use at the time of the crash. Seatbelts are a "one-crash" item. They become stretched and will not offer proper protection in another crash.

If your seat was involved in a crash, it should be destroyed so that it is unusable. Cut the harness straps and use a sledgehammer or an axe to break the shell apart.

...that car seats expire?

Car seats should be replaced every 6 years. Why? Car seats are mainly made of plastic. After being subjected to the elements over time, they will start to weaken. In a crash the seat may fail and leave your child in danger.

...that you should never purchase or use a secondhand seat with an unknown history?

While it may be very tempting to purchase a car seat at a garage sale or off e-bay, it isn't a good idea. If the seat doesn't come from trusted family or friends, you cannot be assured of the seat's history. It could have been in an accident or otherwise mistreated. It is advisable to order a new harness for any used seat (that isn't your own from a previous child) as the harness may have been treated with chemicals or heat, which weakens it.

Treating the harness straps with heat or chemicals can cause the straps to break down and weaken, causing them to break or tear in a crash. If your straps need to be washed, follow the manufacturer's guidelines in the instruction manual. If you have treated the harness straps in a way that isn't advised by the manufacturer, you may want to consider ordering a replacement harness from the manufacturer.

Lastly, this article is just a brief overview of Car Seat Safety, meant to stimulate and rekindle your awareness of how crucial this topic is. There is a wealth of information on the internet to guide you through purchasing and proper use of car seats.

Safe Driving!