Problem with Car Seats
dangerous places. Especially for children. Car crashes are
the leading cause of death for children aged 3 to 14.
who·s known me for any length of time has heard me
rant about the latest overhyped danger to children (usually
some variation on stranger danger, or terribly fun, interesting
things that conceivably might result in injury) and how
it·s being used to justify making children prisoners
of their parents, never learning to be independent or judge
risks. These conversations almost always end with some variation
on ·The most dangerous thing you do with your kid is
put them in the car. But no one is freaked out about that.·
So you might imagine that I am a big fan of car seats. And
I am, I guess. I mean, I·m glad we have them. It·s
the least we can do if we·re going to drive our kids
around, and I·m glad that their specifications have
been getting more exacting, and all that. And I·m even
glad, even if it·s in a reluctant, sinking-feeling-in-my-stomach
kind of way, to be refreshed on all the niggly rules about
their use that make them more effective.
the same time, I am more than a little ticked off by the righteous
tone of the latest spate of articles devoted to telling parents
how awful they are if their car seat straps are ever a bit
loose and how they should always go above and beyond the minimum
requirements of car seatage. On the one hand, they·re
hard to argue with. They·re not wrong about what·s
having to use car seats suck. Especially now that you are
required to have a child in some sort of seat until age eight,
they more or less constitute a mandate against carpooling
for more than two kids at a time, except for those with minivans.
Backward facing, which we·re now told to do until 2,
or even until 40 pounds, is certainly safer in an accident,
but some percentage of children (possibly those who in later
life get sick riding in the backward facing seats on trains
and buses?) scream their heads off until they get to face
forward. How safe is distracted driving? Statistically, very
dangerous. I·ll take reducing your chance of an accident
in the first place every time.
really, more than the ·this is annoying· piece,
is what gets me about the discussion around car seats. It·s
never connected to a movement to get kids riding in cars less,
or to reduce accidents on the road. No one ever says in these
articles, ·If you·re sleep deprived·well,
sleepy drivers are as dangerous as drunk drivers, so tell
your in-laws you·re not making the 5 hour drive, they
have to come to you.· No one ever puts on those tip
lists picking a day care or pediatrician within walking distance,
or encouraging your kids to walk or bike to school as a way
to reduce your child·s risk of car accidents. You don·t
see the car seat safety advocates out there fighting for traffic
calming, public transit funding, bike infrastructure, walkable
development, or greater traffic law enforcement.
here·s a thought, how about making cars themselves
safer for children to ride in? We·d still need infant
seats, but for older children, what about adjustable height
seat belts in the back? Or the built-in booster seats that
do now exist in a few cars·how about a movement to
make them standard, and in the safer center seat? As a bonus,
it would make cars safer for us short adults.
have claimed they shouldn·t have to do stuff like that
because only 5 percent of cars are used to transport children.
I call extra fragrant baloney on that one. Thirty-one percent
of households in this country have children under 18 in them.
And car purchasers who don·t have kids at the time
sometimes have kids before they get a new car. Or their friends,
siblings, or children do. Or they become a mentor. Or they
sell their car to someone who does. How many people really
never run into a situation in which they might want to drive
a child somewhere?
easy to trace the political path from parents worriedly testing
toys for lead paint or frustratedly seeking out bottles without
bisphenol-A in them to a collective demand to reduce these
dangers at the source. Rather than only haranguing parents
for a loose shoulder strap, we should make the same transition
in the conversation about children and cars.