Children are precious cargo. Keeping children safe while riding in the car cannot be left to chance. It is the law. A guide to the Iowa child restraint law includes these key points:
Children under 1 year old and weighing less than 20 pounds must be secured in a rear-facing child restraint system,
Children under 6 years old must be secured in an appropriate child restraint system (not a safety belt),
A child from age 6 up to 11 must be secured in a child restraint system or by a safety belt,
Rear seat occupants up to age 18 must be secured by a safety belt and
The minimum fine is $195 for a violation.
A "child restraint system" is a specially designed seating system, including a belt positioning seat or a booster seat that meets federal motor vehicle safety standards.
These laws apply to both residents and nonresidents of Iowa. Non-use of a child restraint is probable cause to stop a vehicle. For unrestrained passengers age 0-13, the driver receives the citation, and for unrestrained passengers 14-17, the passenger receives the citation.
Proper safety seat installation includes the following:
Make sure the rear-facing safety seat is angled at 45 degrees in the back seat.
Put the seat belt through the correct path to secure the safety seat. This path is often highlighted in the safety seat's instructions.
Make sure the harness strap is as close to the baby's body as it can be. Avoid bulky clothing or blankets coming between the baby and the strap. If extra warmth is needed, bundle blankets around the baby after he/she is strapped in.
Adjust the straps so the harness' restraining clip is at armpit level so it can properly hold the shoulder straps in place.
No more than two fingers should fit between the seat's harness and the child's collar bone. If a harness is not tight enough, the baby can be thrown out of the seat if there is a collision. A loose harness is one of the most common errors people make when strapping their child in. Another mistake is not having the harness retainer clip adjusted correctly which causes it to fall low on the child's chest rather than at the armpit level to hold the shoulder straps in place. When installing the seat, be sure that it isn't too loose. If the seat moves more than an inch side to side it is not tight enough.
Children should always ride in the back as this is always the safest. Airbags make the front seat of a vehicle more dangerous for children. Airbags deploy at speeds of 160 miles per hour. This force can result in significant injury and even death to a child riding in the front seat. Children should be in rear-facing seats in the middle of the back seat from birth until they weigh 20 pounds and are a year old. The longer you can keep them in a rear facing seat the safer it is for the child. After that the child can be in a forward-facing seat with a harness until they reach at least 40 pounds. Never place a rear-facing child safety seat in the front.
A booster seat should then be used until the child weights at least 80 pounds. If a child is in an adult seat too early they can sustain internal injuries from the lap belt.
Parents can have their safety seats checked and instructions on proper installation at free seat checks from 6 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. the last Tuesday of the month from March through November at Ron's Lube and Oil, 2518 First Ave. S. The child who will use the seat should accompany the parent at the time of the safety check.
John Copper is the safety seat coordinator in the Emergency Department at Trinity Regional Medical Center.