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Doernbecher Safety Experts Urge Safety Seat Use

02/22/06  Portland, Ore.

Doernbecher Children's Safety Center, a Portland family who survived a rollover accident, strongly advocate use of age-appropriate vehicle restraints

Recent media reports of a famous pop music star driving with her infant on her lap alarmed the public. The Doernbecher Children's Safety Center would like to remind parents to use age-appropriate child safety and booster seats, and to be sure they are secure and properly fastened.

Five-month-old Tucker Buchanan, of Portland, Ore., is proof-positive that safety seats save lives.

Just before leaving her mother's house near La Grande, Ore., Jade Buchanan tightened the straps to Tucker's safety seat - a precaution that served her baby well. On the way back to Portland, Jade, her husband, Brandon, and Tucker were involved in a rollover accident. Their vehicle flipped three times. Jade and Brandon both suffered compression fractures in their lower vertebrae, but little Tucker came out without a scratch, thanks to the precautions his mom took to secure his safety seat.

"I want people to be aware of the importance of checking the car seat regularly to make sure that it is secured properly," said Brandon. "Over time the straps tend to loosen up a bit. It only takes a few seconds to double check. If you're not absolutely positive that you have installed the seat exactly the way it is designed to be installed, please find one of the many free resources out there to help you. It could save your baby's life."

Tragically, the leading cause of death and disability among children aged 4 to 8 is motor vehicle accidents. Last year the Oregon Department of Transportation provided inspections of child safety and booster seats and found 85 percent of safety seats and 51 percent of booster seats were improperly installed.

"We want to do all that we can to keep children healthy and safe," said Dana Hargunani, M.D., assistant medical director of the Doernbecher Children's Safety Center and assistant professor of pediatrics in the Oregon Health & Science University School of Medicine. "One important way of preventing injury is making sure that children are properly restrained when riding in a vehicle. Instilling this behavior from the time they are small promotes lifelong safety behaviors."

Experts in the Doernbecher Children's Safety Center work with families like Tucker's to educate them about preventable childhood injuries, the No. 1 cause of death and disability among children in Oregon and the United States. Safety advocates provide one-on-one counseling and hands-on demonstration of products, including child safety seats, cabinet latches, window locks, stair gates, baby-proofing supplies, smoke alarms, electrical outlet plugs and specially fitted activity helmets for numerous activities, such as biking, skating, rollerblading and sledding.

Doernbecher safety experts recommend families follow the guidelines set forth by the American Academy of Pediatrics and Oregon state law (Note: AAP guidelines are stricter than Oregon law):

Guidelines for Child Safety Seats/Boost Seats from the American Academy Pediatrics
* Until an infants are 1 year old and weigh at least 20 pounds, they should ride facing the rear of the vehicle. Harness straps should be placed at or below shoulder level.
* Toddlers older than 1 who weigh 20 to 40 pounds should ride facing the front of the vehicle. Harness straps should be placed at or below shoulder level.
* Children younger than 8 and shorter than 4 feet 9 inches should ride in a booster seat. Use both lap and shoulder belts that fit low and tight across the lap/upper-thigh area. The shoulder belt should fit snugly across the chest and shoulders to avoid abdominal injuries.
* *Children 12 and younger should sit in the back seat and use both seat and lap belts.
(*Note: A recent study by an emergency medicine researcher at Doernbecher Children's Hospital found children 14 and younger should sit in the back seat of cars equipped with air bags. )

Oregon Law Regarding Safety Seats
* Children younger than 4 who weigh less than 40 pounds must be properly secured with a child safety seat designed for children weighing 40 pounds or less.
* Children aged 4 to 6 and who weigh between 40 and 60 pounds must be properly secured with a child safety system that allows the safety belt or safety harness to properly fit. "Proper fit" means the lap belt of the safety belt or safety harness is positioned low across the thighs and the shoulder belt is positioned over the collarbone and away from the neck. The child safety system must be designed for children weighing between 40 and 60 pounds. If the rear seat of a vehicle is not equipped with shoulder belts, these requirements do not apply provided the child is secured by a lap belt.
* Children aged 6 who weigh 60 pounds or more must be properly secured with a safety belt or safety harness.

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