By Cass Rains, Staff Writer
Enid News and Eagle
ENID, Okla. —
Car crashes are the No. 1 killer of children ages 1 to 12 in the United States, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
Since the beginning of the year, Enid has seen three fatality vehicle accidents, the last involving the death of a 4-year-old boy.
NHTSA and other traffic safety officials say the best way to protect children in the car is to put them in the right seat, at the right time and use it the right way.
Enid Police Department Lt. Mark Blodgett said since July 1, 2012, the department has issued 50 child restraint violation citations to drivers in Enid.
He said the department often issues the $104 citations through municipal court; however, a charge can be issued through district court if the circumstances of the violation warrant it.
“If you’re transporting children that are required by law to be in some sort of restraint system, it’s the driver’s responsibility that they be in some sort of restraint system and are buckled in,” Blodgett said.
According to state law, regardless of a child’s seating position in a vehicle, children under 6 years of age shall be protected in a properly installed child passenger restraint system. Children ages 6 through 12 must be protected by use of either a properly installed child passenger restraint system, or a safety belt.
“Every driver, when transporting a child under 6 years of age in a motor vehicle operated on the roadways, streets, or highways of this state, shall provide for the protection of said child by properly using a child passenger restraint system,” according to city ordinance. “ For purposes of this subsection, ‘child passenger restraint system’ means an infant or child passenger restraint system that meets the federal standards ...” It also requires children older than 6 but younger than 13 to be protected by some type of child passenger restraint.
The ordinance allows exceptions for driver of a school bus, taxicab, moped, motorcycle, or other motor vehicle not required to be equipped with safety belts pursuant to state or federal laws; the driver of an ambulance or emergency vehicle; the driver of a vehicle in which all of the seat belts are in use; and the transportation of children who for medical reasons are unable to be placed in such devices.
The ordinance also exempts, “transportation of a child who weighs more than 40 pounds and who is being transported in the back seat of a vehicle while wearing only a lap safety belt, when the back seat of the vehicle is not equipped with combination lap and shoulder safety belts, or when the combination lap and shoulder safety belts in the back seat are being used by other children who weigh more than 40 pounds.”
Oklahoma Highway Safety Office’s Sgt. Jason Yingling said there often is confusion about the requirements of the laws on child restraint system.
“The biggest issue we have is people don’t know the height, size, the weight requirements and when they’re supposed to be forward-facing and rear-facing,” he said. “There are a tremendous amount of questions when it comes to car seats.”
Yingling, OHSO’s law enforcement liaison, said between the requirements of the law and the requirements in the child restraint devices, it can frustrate or confuse some parents.
“The longer you can keep a child in a rear-facing seat is best,” he said, noting children can be kept in such seats until they are 2 years old. “We know through the laws of physics and through recent studies of crash data it’s the safest for them.”
Rear-facing seats should be reclined 30-45 degrees, according to the manufacturer’s instructions. The harness or straps should be positioned below the shoulders, and the chest clip should be adjusted to armpit level. The child’s head should be more than 1 inch below the top of the car seat.
Older or bigger children that graduate to a forward-facing car seat need to be strapped in with the harness straps at or above the shoulders with a snug fit. The chest clip should be adjusted to an armpit level.
Yingling said the safest things parents can do is to keep children in a five-point harness.
“The longer you can keep them in that forward-facing five-point harness seat, the better,” he said, “Keep them in that until they reach the upper height and weight limit.”
Most forward-facing seats have a maximum weight limit of 40 pounds for the harness. Children too young for a booster seat would benefit from a car seat with a higher weight limit on the harness.
“Once they reach that upper-weight limit, graduate them from a forward-facing harness to a booster seat,” Yingling said. He said booster seats should only be used with a vehicle that has a lap and shoulder belt, and never a lap belt only.
“A lot of the times, the way seat belts are designed, it will go across the upper body or throat, so we want to boost them up so it comes across the sternum area or chest,” Yingling said. “The lap belt should fit across the thighs or hips and not the stomach.”
Children should never place a seat belt under their arm or behind their back.
A child is ready for a regular seat belt when their knees bend over the front of the seat, when the lap belt is across the thighs and not the stomach, when the upper belt rests upon the shoulder and not the neck, and when the child can maintain the proper position throughout the entire ride.
Yingling said as long as children are properly restrained, motorists are not likely to be stopped by law enforcement.
“As far as the enforcement goes, troopers, deputies and police are not stopping people for weight or height violations on the car seats,” he said. “As long as they’re properly restrained, that’s the best practice.”
For parents having trouble keeping their kids in the seat restraints, he suggests making a game out of it or providing some incentive for children to remain in their car seats.
“You’ve got to try to integrate it at their level, where it’s fun to do and interesting to do,” Yingling said. “Try to make a real positive experience for your child.”