One of the most important pieces of safety equipment a new parent can have is a child car seat. Just having a child car seat, however, is not enough. To truly receive the benefits the seat can provide, it must be properly installed.
Unfortunately, from 2007 to 2011 more than 3,600 children were killed in car accidents. More than a third of those were killed because they were not in a car seat or were in a car seat that wasn’t properly installed.
When my first child was born in April 2000, we bought a car seat, but we didn’t have a clue on how to install one. My local fire department was offering free installations, so I decided to check it out. I was shocked to see two firemen work to install the seat. One sat on the car seat base while the other pulled the seat belt with all his might, installed the locking clip and clicked it in. I remarked to one that it seemed like overkill. The firefighter said that, for the seat to do its job, it has to be that tight.
Five months later it was time to take a road trip to Chicago to show off our baby daughter to my family. As we approached downtown Chicago on the Dan Ryan Expressway at about 65 mph, traffic suddenly ground to a halt. We stopped in plenty of time, but a car behind us did not.
The entire event seemed to occur in slow motion. I saw the speeding car coming up fast in my rearview mirror. I yelled to my wife, in the back seat with my daughter, to hang on and, BAM, we were hit. The force of the impact knocked us into the car in front of us. My head knocked off the rearview mirror, and my knee went through the plastic trim below the instrument panel even though I was properly restrained. Before the crash, my daughter was fast asleep, but with the sudden jarring she was now screaming. We couldn’t tell if she was hurt, startled or both.
It seemed like an eternity, but it likely was only a few minutes before the fire department arrived on the scene. My wife and I were fine, but we had no idea about our daughter. The force of the impact had knocked her car seat handle up and over my driver’s seat. A firefighter cut the seat belt still holding the car seat in place, and they transported my daughter by ambulance to Chicago Children’s Hospital still in the car seat, not wanting to move her. The doctors saw her immediately and ordered x-rays to see the extent of the damage.
To everyone’s surprise, she was not harmed in any way. No broken bones, no scratches. She was completely fine. The paramedic, who remained with us this entire time, remarked that we must have had the car seat professionally installed. We told him we had the local fire department do it. He stated it was a good thing, for if there were any slack in the seat belt — even half an inch — our daughter likely would have died from the impact.
That day I became a believer in the importance of a proper car seat and the extreme importance of proper installation. I encourage you to share my story with anyone with small children. You never know when an accident may occur, but if it does you want to be sure you did all you could to protect your child.