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Car Seat Safety

Check your car-seat knowledge with the quiz below. But even if you score 100 percent, read on. According to Heather Paul, Ph.D., Executive Director of the National SAFE KIDS Campaign®, a startling eight out of ten parents who use car seats do so incorrectly! To help protect your kids in the car, bone up on the following points:

Car seats are extremely effective. When correctly installed and used, they reduce the risk of death by 71 percent for infants (under age 1) and by 54 percent for toddlers (ages 1 to 4).

Children ages 4 and under and/or weighing less than 40 pounds are required by most state laws to be protected by car seats. See "Which Car Seat to Choose," opposite, to find a seat that's right for your child.

Never place a child in the front seat of a car, even in a car seat. If the car is equipped with a passenger air bag, the force of the air bag, upon impact, could kill or seriously injure a child 12 and under.

Beginning in 1998, all new cars will be equipped with driver and front-passenger air bags. The back seat is the safest place to ride.

Always use infant car seats rear-facing only!

If you must buy or borrow a used car seat, do so with caution and be sure it meets federal motor vehicle safety standards. Used car seats may have been damaged in a crash and may have hidden flaws. Also, make sure that the seat comes with its original user's manual or instruction booklet. Follow these instructions and the car owner's manual without fail. Don't use seats manufactured before 1981; before this date, seats weren't required to pass a dynamic crash test and may not protect a child in a crash.

Your car seat should be compatible with your car. Read both the car-seat and car manuals to verify that the seat fits snugly. Try out different models before making a purchase. Register your car seat with the manufacturer so you can be notified in the even of a recall.

Taxicabs and rental vehicles are covered by some state child-occupant safety laws and require the use of child safety seats. Always bring your child's car seat along when you use these forms of transportation.

Parents: Find out how savvy you are about children and motor-vehicle injuries. Take this quiz:

Q. What is the leading cause of unintentional injury-related death among children 14 and under?

1. Drownings
2. Motor-vehicle crashes
3. Fires

A. The correct answer is number 2. Children are particularly at risk from death and injury as passengers in motor vehicles. Motor-vehicle safety features are designed to protect an adult-size body and may actually put children at greater risk. To prevent injury and death, always use the restraint system (car seats, booster seats, or seat belts) appropriate for your child's age and size.

Q. True or False: If a child is small enough holding her in your arms while someone else drives will keep her safe, as long as you're not on the highway.

A. False! In a crash, a child held in your arms is never safe. A 30-mile-per-hour impact will tear a baby from the hold of even the strongest adult.

Q. Children ages 14 and under are more likely to die from motor-vehicle crashes:

1. On weekends
2. During the months from May to September
3. Between the hours of 3p.m. and 5p.m.
4. All of the above

A. The correct answer is number 4. According to the National SAFE KIDS Campaign®, half of all deaths occur on weekends, half happen during the warmer months, and more than one quarter occur in the late afternoon.

Car-Seat Stats

How can 79 percent of those who use child seats do so incorrectly? A 1996 National Highway Traffic Safety Administration study shows the mistakes made:

72.0% used the seat's locking clip the wrong way or failed to use it at all.
58.8% misused the car seat's harness-retainer chest clip or failed to use it at all.
45.8% misused the harness strap or failed to use it at all.
16.9% fastened the car's safety belt incorrectly over the car seat.
9.6% turned the car seat in the wrong direction.
3.3% failed to buckle the car seat's harness.