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Child seats allow safe transportation of kids

By Bonnie Coblentz

MISSISSIPPI STATE -- Mississippi law leaves a lot of decisions up to parents on how to safely transport their children, but there are simple guidelines to ensure they do it best.

Mississippi has a seat belt law for all passengers in cars and specifies that children from birth to age 4 be properly restrained in a car safety seat. Babies are required to be restrained in rear-facing safety seats until they are 20 pounds and 1 year old. Children from age 4 to 8 must be “properly restrained,” but the law does not specify how. The state does not have a law requiring the use of booster seats, as several other states have.

Herb Willcutt, safety specialist with the Mississippi State University Extension Service, said the momentum of a moving vehicle carries unrestrained passengers and objects forward when the vehicle stops suddenly or changes direction rapidly.

“Unrestrained, small children are impacted on dashboards, the backs of seats and other objects that may be in the car,” Willcutt said. “A parent holding a child can actually crush that child if they are thrown forward in a collision.”

Child safety seats are designed to provide greater support and protection to the head and vital parts of babies and young children. Once children have outgrown the age and weight standards for child safety seats, booster seats are designed to elevate children to where vehicle seat belts will fit them correctly.

“A seat belt must fit the child the way it fits you,” said Angela Brown, outreach coordinator for Safe Kids Mississippi, a non-profit, educational organization in Jackson. “The seat belt must come across their shoulders and chest, and rest across their upper thighs and hips.”

While the law allows children 4 years and older to simply use a seat belt, Brown said because of their height, the shoulder strap often rubs against children's necks and many move it behind them where it can no longer protect them.

Safe Kids Mississippi recommends booster seats for children ages 4 to 8 or until they reach 4 feet 9 inches tall and 80 pounds. This organization also recommends that children not sit in the front seat until they reach age 14.

“If a child must sit in the front seat, push the seat all the way back and turn the airbag off,” Brown said. “Some vehicles have weight sensors that turn the air bag off automatically, and others have a manual switch.”

Brown said many vehicles can be equipped with a switch that can deactivate the airbag when necessary.

While there are numerous price ranges and options when buying child safety and booster seats, Brown said the process does not have to be difficult.

“The best car seat for your child is the one that fits your car and that you will use correctly every single time,” Brown said. “All car seats were tested to the same standards. Some have extra bells and whistles, but if used correctly, a $30 car seat will work as well as a $200 car seat.”

She did caution against using secondhand seats because they may have missing parts, may not meet current safety standards or may have been stressed in a wreck.

Safe Kids Mississippi has several chapters located throughout the state and conducts free inspections of car seats to ensure that children are being transported safely. For more information on this organization or proper use of child safety and booster seats, visit http://mssafekids.com/.

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Released: Sept. 28, 2006
Contact: Herb Willcutt, (662) 325-7345

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