Author Shireen Atabaki, MD, MPH, is a physician in Children’s National’s Emergency Department. She is an Associate Professor of Pediatrics and Emergency Medicine at Children’s and the George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences. Her area of expertise is in concussion and knowledge translation.
When it comes to car safety, one of the most important things you should do is make sure your child is buckled in properly.
Safety in Seat Belts
Seat belts are one of the most important elements of a safety system in motor vehicles, and when worn properly they prevent serious injuries, in adults and children. Unfortunately – and too often – they are forgotten by busy parents. And as kids get older, they also may not buckle up without reminders from parents.
The use of lap and shoulder restraints reduces the risk of fatal injuries in occupants age 5 or older by 45 percent and the risk of moderate to critical injury by 50 percent.
Launching the First-Ever National Tween Seat Belt Campaign
This month, the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) launched its first-ever “national tween seat belt advertising campaign,” aimed at parents of children ages 8 to 14, to make sure they are consistently and properly wearing their seat belts every time a car is moving.
I think it’s terrific to target this age group because motor vehicle crashes are among the most common causes of brain injury. Kids at this age really need role models; from parents, family, friends, and caregivers, to properly use seatbelts, which – it can’t be stressed enough – saves lives.
Researching Traumatic Brain Injury Caused by Motor Vehicle Crashes
As a member of the division of Emergency Medicine and Trauma Services at Children’s National, I have specialized in examining concussion, trauma, and other issues.
In a recent New England Journal of Medicine study, my colleagues and I found that traumatic brain injury in children under 12, were most frequently caused by assaults, sports activities, and, you guessed it, motor vehicle crashes.
Unfortunately, as kids get older they are more unlikely to buckle up, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT).
Over the past five years, 1,552 kids between the ages of 8 and 14 died in car, SUV, and van crashes – and of those who died, almost half were not wearing a seat belt, the DOT states.
But seat belts can offer good news. Seat belts have prevented injuries in children in some of the worst accidents, such as rollover collisions that could have resulted in serious injuries or even death to drivers and passengers. U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx was spot on in his message to get children to wear seat belts. “Buckling up is an important habit to instill in children at a young age,” Foxx said. “As parents, we need to lead by example and reinforce the message to make sure it sticks.”
Buckling Up the Right Way
U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx was spot on in his message to get children to wear seat belts. “Buckling up is an important habit to instill in children at a young age,” Foxx said. “As parents, we need to lead by example and reinforce the message to make sure it sticks.”
I found these recommendations from DOT on seat belt safety:
- Use Seat belts. Teach your kids to look for a seat belt, and also tell them not to tuck their belt under their armpits, even if they think it is more comfortable that way.
- Never Share Seat belts. Two kids should never buckle up as a pair even if it seems like fun.
- Young Kids Should Sit in the Backseat. Children under 13 years of age should always ride in the backseat, because this protects them from possible injury when a passenger side airbag deploys.
- “Play it Cool.” Kids should understand the importance of staying calm and low-key in the back seat.
Not only should kids buckle up, but they should buckle up the right way
As part of the Pediatric Emergency Care Applied Research Network
, I have conducted studies on seat belt issues, including one that focuses on “seat belt signs,” in which when seat belts are worn improperly, they can cause abrasions in children as well as adults.
The correct positioning of lap belts for children means low across the thighs and not across the abdomen. That’s important to reduce injuries.
So, it’s always wise to buckle up for safety, and do it the right way!