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Reading about the death of a child in an automobile accident is always painful, especially when the child was not in a safety seat. Living with such a death has to be absolutely devastating for family members and friends because some basic safety steps probably would have saved the child’s life. Those steps include placing the child in the back seat and properly using a restraint seat.

Children belong in the back seat of the car, and they belong in a child restraint system. When children ride in the front seat or without proper restraints, their likelihood of injury increases dramatically. Statistics show clearly that the use of safety seats and safety belts will reduce the possibility of injury and death for children in car crashes.

Adults who allow children to ride in the front seat of a car are placing them at risk of death and crippling injuries from a crash. Children can also suffer hearing problems and respiratory ailments from airbags that deploy.

An airbag explodes from the dashboard or steering wheel with a 170-decibel bang. That’s much louder than a jackhammer, and loud enough to damage the ears. Children in the front seat when an air bag deploys are 14 times more likely to experience tinnitus than children in the back seat.

Air bags are excellent safety devices for adults, but they can be deadly to children. In the 1990s, many children and some adults died when air bags deployed. Because of engineering and design improvements, air bags have become much safer, and in 2007 no children or adults died from air bag injuries.

That’s good news, but many children still die or suffer serious injuries in car crashes because adults have not used child restraint seats or seat belts.

Many other children have suffered serious injuries because adults have not properly installed their safety seats, and the problem is so wisespread that a 2009 study has found that 2/3 of all booster seats are not used properly.

Another problem is defective child safety seats. Recalls have been common for more than 20 years, and manufacturers are still sending defective products to market.

In a car, the safest position for anyone is the middle of the back seat. It’s certainly not the most prestigious or comfortable spot, but it provides the most protection for riders of any age. For a small child, the middle of the back seat, combined with a restraining seat, affords outstanding protection.

Another step that will increase the safety of a young child in a collision is to use a rear-facing seat. All infants should ride rear-facing until they are at least 1 year of age and weigh at least 20 pounds, and it’s good to use the rear-facing seat as long as possible.

For infants and young children, a collision that seems minimal to an adult can be fatal. A crash as slow as 5 MPH can kill an unrestrained child, and a quick stop can propel a child into a windshield with devastating consequences, so it’s absolutely necessary to use a safety system every time a child rides in a car.

Speed is always a factor in the injuries that a crash. Something that few people realize is that the energy in a collision increases by the square of the speed. It might seem that a crash at 30 MPH would cause 50% more damage than a crash at 20 MPH (30 ÷ 20 = 1.5). In reality, however, the laws of physics say that a 30 MPH crash unleashes more than twice the energy of a 20 MPH crash. (30 X 30 = 900 and 20 X 20 = 400. 900 ÷ 400 = 2.25.)

No one ever plans to be in a wreck, but they do happen. Following these basic rules will help to protect you and your children if you are ever in an accident:

Children, 12 and under, and adults of short, light build, particularly seniors, should ride properly restrained in the rear seat.

• Infants should NEVER ride in the front seat of a vehicle with a passenger side air bag.

• Small children should ride in a rear seat in child safety seats approved for their age and size.

• The safest position for a child safety seat is in the middle of the back seat.

• Everyone always should buckle both lap and shoulder belts.

• Drivers should sit back as far as possible from the steering wheel. Never closer than 10 inches from the center of the steering wheel to the breastbone.

• Increase the distance from the steering wheel to increase the margin of safety in a crash and the risk of injury from both the collision and an airbag.

• Buckle up and slide the seat back as far as possible to allow safe operation.

Our highways are crowded and dangerous. You may not be able to avoid being an accident victim, but by taking these precautions, you can reduce the risk of injury to you and your children. If you or your child has been injured in an auto accident, contact me to determine if our firm can help you deal with the injuries, the insurance issues, and the legal issues that you’re facing.