Friday, October 24, 2008

An open letter to car safety fans & manufacturers

I have a big baby. He is not of average weight, I agree.

But I want him to be just as safe as all those average babies out there can be.

Unfortunately, he's outgrown the limits of his car seat for rear facing — in fact, he outgrew them at 9 months, a full three months before even the most liberal recommendations for when to turn a baby forward facing, which in the US are 1 year old and 20 pounds. Twenty pounds he reached by 9 weeks, so that was out! At 16 months now, he's outgrown both the height and weight limits of all the rear-facing seats available in the US market.

I believe in the benefits of extended rear facing. Studies, crash statistics, and a commonsense understanding of physics show that it's much safer for a passenger to be secured in a rear-facing seat in almost any collision. Watch the clip below and see the forces at work on the baby's neck and spine:

Children between the ages of 1 and 2 are five times more likely to be injured forward facing than rear, according to Dr. Marilyn Bull at Riley Hospital for Children in Indianapolis (where my uncle works -- here's a shout out to him!).

Her study recommends rear facing to the limits of the child seat, hopefully till at least 2 years old. The child's spine takes many years to develop and ossify into the adult configuration, and the biggest danger for babies in forward-facing seats is (gulp) internal decapitation due to a weak spinal system. This has nothing to do with neck strength and is all part of the gradual process of spinal bone growth; babies' relatively big heads for their bodies unfortunately exacerbate the dangers of having weak spines when strong forces act upon them -- say, the forces of a 30 mph collision.

How do I know so much about this issue? Because I care about parenting, and I learn about what I'm involved in. All this learning, however, has left me aggravated and apprehensive, because my baby can no longer safely sit rear facing using US-approved seats.

Most parents I know would not understand why I consider this a big deal. If you're one of them, I hope you'll take some time to consider the links above and realize that turning your child forward facing is not a milestone to look forward to but a demotion in safety. Cars are very dangerous, and they're especially dangerous for the vulnerable.

But the people I really want to talk to are those who are in complete agreement with me, who have sent out links to the very sites I've referenced in this article and showed their relatives and friends the YouTube clips of crash tests. I also want to talk to child safety restraint manufacturers -- Britax (thank you for the photos of adorable Swedish kids, btw), SafeGuard, Sunshine Kids, etc. -- you know who you are. We love your products, and we appreciate that you make high-quality and innovative seats. We know that some of you make seats that rear face up to much higher limits in other countries and have safety features that US seats lack. I'm not even asking that we be as progressive and intelligent as Sweden, where children rear face for approximately the first four years, and rear-facing weight limits are 55 pounds, and where they have incredibly low amounts of child injuries and fatalities from car accidents. (Well, that would be nice, but first things first. Compare the stats to take a gander at the shocking differences: nine children properly restrained died in car accidents in Sweden from 1992-June 1997, whereas about four children a day die in the United States due to car crashes. Obviously, that's not an apples-to-apples comparison, but believe me when I say we would do well to emulate the Swedes on car safety.)

Here are the only little things I want from you.

Car seat makers, please consider increasing the rear-facing height and weight limits on your child seats. I know there's not a market for them yet in this country. I understand that market forces affect how much you can do. But even a few pounds and a couple inches might mean the difference between my baby (I know, I know, it's all about me!) turning around now at 16 months when his spine is still severely undeveloped, and being able to stay more safely rear facing for up to another year or more. Make seats so that no mama ever has to even worry that her baby won't make it to 2 years old before hitting the rear-facing limit.

Car safety advocates, please continue to raise your voices so that the above can happen. Let the manufacturers know that you would be willing to keep your precious cargo facing the rear longer if US seats allowed it to happen. Write letters to the AAP and your political representatives urging them to consider passing more conservative guidelines for when a baby can be turned around to face the front. And let your neighbors, colleagues, parenting groups, and friends know about the benefits of extended rear facing. Oh, you're probably already doing that.

As for me, I'm faced with the dilemma: turn Mikko around now, top tether his seat (we had an anchor retrofitted in our 1997 car for free at a dealership), and hope for the best. Or import a pricey and illegal Swedish seat through the services of this helpful gentleman and hope the fuzz don't catch us.

Cheese it, Mikko! At least he'd be safer as we made our getaway.


Anonymous said...

Well said! I couldn't agree with you more. I think change will come, sooner than we think. About the high weight 55 lbs rear facing seats, crash testing in US and Sweden is very similar. Certifying the Swedish seats would likely not mean rebuilding them or changing anything. They work well as they are, regardless of country.

I don't understand why this is not being done already, maybe it's because relatively few know about the HUGE benefits of rear facing a baby past 12 months.

Lauren Wayne said...

I like your optimism! I hope word gets around quickly about the benefits.

Thanks again for being such a great advocate of car safety for babies!

Woman with a Hatchet said...

I have a pair of Radian 65s which will hold kids up to 65 lbs. You can keep them rear facing up to 33lbs. You might want to consider looking into those. They're also skinnier than normal seats and take up less space in the car, which was a huge bonus for me since I needed two of them plus a booster for my 7 year old.

Good on you for doing the research!

Lauren Wayne said...

Thanks for the recommendation! The Radian is definitely one I'm looking into for forward-facing. Unfortunately, my chunky monkey is already 35 lbs, so rear-facing is out. I do like that the Radians can be tethered forward facing, which helps with head excursion.

handroanthus said...

I saw your post from a few years ago on a Norwegian blog. What did you decide to do? The Britax Hi-way? I'm trying to decide between the same three seats- Multi-Tech, Hi-Way and Two way. Did your son like his seat, and do you like it in your escort?

Incidentally, I've had car seat frustrations as well, although not the same as yours. Adventuredad was also a fount of knowledge for me! We moved from the US to the UK (let's talk about scary carseat laws!! Later though) when our son was 4 months old. I wanted a seat that would be legal in both the US and the UK. After months of research I learned that it's impossible as the EU and US laws are mutually exclusive! It seems to me it would be better for the car seat makers to have less regulations to deal with.

Our son is about to outgrow his RF infant 7 months. Everything I can buy in the UK (that I've found so far) is FF. Here, they turn 'em at 9 months (and, as long as the air bag is off, the front seat is fine, btw...hello scary close to two points of impact). So, through Adventuredad's blog I found a place that will ship the Swedish car seats. Presumably its his, since I know he used to do that for people. Thankfully, since it's all EU, I no longer have to worry about the US compatibility issue.

But, I would like to know your thoughts on the seats, since I won't be able to return it either.

You're absolutely right about US safety standards. I think they're higher than the British, but that doesn't seem to be saying much. I will make it a personal goal though to write my Congresspeople and express my concerns. We shouldn't have to go to these lengths to ensure the safety of our children!

Thanks for your blog!!

Lauren Wayne said...

Sorry for the slow response! You can't go wrong with getting a seat from AdventureDad. He's very helpful and responsible when it comes to shipping out the seat safely.

And we couldn't be happier with the Hi-Way. Feel free to email me (mail AT hobomama DOT com) for any specific questions about fit or installation, and I could give you a rundown on our thought process if you'd like.

I've also heard bad, bad things about the UK safety standards. Yipes! Glad you have a good source to get a safe seat. And here's hoping that the safety standards will improve so that these good RF seats are easily accessible everywhere.

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