About 20% of children who are passengers in car accidents are fatally injured. According to The National Center for Health Statistics, car accidents are one of the leading causes of death for children in the United States. For this reason, a child restraint systems is a necessary device for child passengers in a motor vehicle.
The device consists of a car seat that uses a harness system as primary safety. When the passenger is an infant, the seat is placed in a rear-facing position. By the time a child reaches the age of four years-old, most parents replace the harness with a booster seat. The booster seat, elevates the child, repositioning their bodies so that the car’s safety belt fits correctly.
Do Booster Seats Provide More Protection Than a Five-Point Harness?
Harness seats are provided with straps that secure the child around the shoulders keeping him or her attached to the back of the seat. Two additional tethers cross between the legs keeping each leg secured. In this way, the impact of an accident can disperse broadly through the body instead of causing injuries in one place. (Langino & Kroeger, 2018). As the child grows older and weighs between 20 and 40 pounds, harness seats are placed facing forward (National Transportation Safety Board, 1996).
Booster seats are used as a transition to seat belts for children between 40 and 60 pounds and older than four years of age (National Transportation Safety Board, 1996). These seats use the car safety belt to secure the child from one shoulder across the chest, buckling it up on the side of the hip while the lap belt keeps the hips and the pelvis secure in the seat (Gearner, & Robertson 2012). Most booster seats, however, are marketed for children starting at 30 pounds allowing parents to begin the transition time much earlier than recommended.
The Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard 213 (FMVSS 213), stated a series of norms and regulations back in 1971 related to the design and safety of harness seats for children weighing less than 30 pounds. The purpose of these regulations was to reduce the number of children killed or injured in auto accidents (Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards 1979). Booster seats were included in the 213 standards in 1994. Curiously, tests carried out to determine these seats effectiveness were made using the harness seats parameters. This action neglected the fact that booster seat users weighing more than 30 pounds and having different heights. From then on, booster seats have been sold in the United States only with a restriction to be used by children weighing no less than 30 pounds, making available a restraint system which has not been adequately verified, jeopardizing a child’s life (Langino & Kroeger, 2018). There are no rules that regulate the design of these seats, and no booster seat company has yet developed test standards to ensure its safety.
State law in the Florida Statute 316.613.1a requires that motor vehicle operators must provide federally approved child restraint devices that have been crash-tested. Clearly, there is an ambiguity in stating the specifications of a crash-test related to weights and heights. This imprecision means no explicit regulation in case of damages caused by using these systems. Additionally, in 2014 the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) proposed the first side-impact crash-test. A test aimed to verify the effectiveness of car seats in side-impacts or “T-bone” collisions for children weighing up to 40 pounds. The proposal didn’t pass; yet, today the market advertises booster seats that have been side-impact tested.
A Good Alternative
Fortunately, there is an alternative to avoid using booster seats. The lower anchor tethers for children also called LATCH system allows the installation of a harness seat for children weighing more than 40 pounds. The system uses a tether and two lower anchors to keep the seat secure. These anchors are available on vehicle models manufactured on and after 2002 (National Child Passenger Safety Certification, n.a.)
Car seats are a vital device to protect a child’s life while in a motor vehicle. Although both harness and booster seats are made to avoid injuries or fatalities during a car accident, the safety provided by the five-point harness is more effective than the protection provided by the safety belt whose security focuses only on three points. The LATCH system provides a useful way of setting up a harness seat. Always remember to read the user manual for proper installation.
Joe Zarzaur is a Board Certified Civil Trial Attorney whose firm is dedicated to promoting community safety since 2007. OUR AREAS OF PRACTICE: Serious Personal Injury, Product Defect, Auto Accidents, Cycling Accidents, Motor Vehicle Accidents, Products Liability, Wrongful Death, Medical Malpractice, Wrongful Death, Boat and Jet Ski Accidents, Slip and Fall Injuries, and more. Licensed in Alabama and Florida.
If your child has been injured in a car accident while in a booster seat, it is important to consult with a Board Certified Trial lawyer who has the knowledge and experience to help you. We know accidents can be stressful and want to make the process as easy as possible for you. Call Zarzaur Law, P.A. today at (855) Hire-Joe for a free legal consultation or visit www.zarzaurlaw.com.
Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards. (1979, December) Child Restrain System, 44 FR 72147. Retrieved from https://bit.ly/2r1oHje
Gearner, D. & Robertson, B. (2012, October). Booster seat usage for children 4 to 8 years of age. Journal of Pediatric Nursing 38(5), 285-288.
Langino, A. J. & Kroeger, L. M. (2018, January). Blind Spots. Trial: American Association for Justice, 40-45.
National Center for Health Statistics (n.a.). Child Passenger Safety: Get the Facts. Retrieved from https://bit.ly/2cfooKQ
National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (2014) NHTSA Proposes first-ever side impact test for child restraint systems. Retrieved from https://bit.ly/2KeRpps
National Child Passenger Safety Certification Training Program (n.a.) Lower anchors and tethers for children. Retrieved from https://bit.ly/2HZmJYx
State Uniform Traffic Control, 2017 Fla. § 316.0613. (2017) Retrieved from https://bit.ly/2KhBTJq
United States National Transportation Safety Board. (1996). The performance and use of child restraint systems, seat-belts, and air bags for children in passenger vehicles : safety study. Washington, D.C. : Springfield, Va. :National Transportation Safety Board ; National Technical Information Service