SALT LAKE CITY — Sadly, road injuries are the leading cause of unintentional deaths for children in the United States. This week is Child Passenger Safety Awareness week — a time to educate parents about the right way to secure their child's car seat.
One Draper woman is grateful her baby was properly secured when she got in a crash years ago.
Leslie Bruce loves reflecting on old memories, especially when she realizes how lucky she is to still have her son, Zyon.
Her family was in a horrific car crash when he was just 18 months old. They were headed to Logan for a family gathering when their car was hit from behind, causing them to swerve and hit the center barricade.
"We flipped over and then slid," Bruce described.
Miraculously, everyone was OK, including baby Zyon. "He had two little bruises on his shoulders just from the straps and that was it," she described.
Bruce said the paramedics told her family they shouldn't have walked away from the crash alive.
She had attended a car seat safety check just two weeks before the crash. As a first-time mom, Bruce wanted to make sure she was securing Zyon’s car seat correctly.
"I was like, ‘Oh, I gotta go see if I'm actually doing this right,'" she recalled. "And lo and behold, I was doing it completely wrong. So we went ahead and they taught me how to put in a car seat correctly," she said.
Bruce isn’t alone.
"The data shows that between 85 and 90 percent of car seats have at least one installation mistake," said Jessica Strong, Intermountain Healthcare’s Community Health Manager at Primary Children’s Hospital.
Strong says a common mistake parents make is not tightening the harness straps enough.
"If you can pinch that webbing at the shoulder, it's not tight enough," she explained.
She also said the chest clip often sits too low on many car seats. "That chest clip really should be at nipple height, or about armpit level when they're buckled in," she said.
Strong said when it comes to choosing a car seat or booster seat, both age and size matter. According to Safe Kids Worldwide, a safety seat could reduce the risk of death by more than 70 percent if used correctly.
She says most babies outgrow their infant seat after a year, but they should remain rear-facing much longer. She said some rear-facing seats will fit children up to 60 pounds. "It's very safe, and oftentimes very comfortable for the child," she said.
For older kids, using a booster seat could prevent the lap belt from cutting across a child's stomach or neck in the event of a crash.
"Both of those are problematic because if they're in a crash that can actually cause injuries," Strong said.
Strong encourages parents to keep their kids in a booster until they are tall enough, regardless of age.
In Utah, the law requires a child to be at least 8 years old to ride without a booster, but Strong encourages parents to make sure their child is also at least 4 feet, 9 inches tall since most vehicle seat belts are designed to fit someone at least that tall.
"Utah law says age 8, but the law of physics says 4-foot-9," Strong said.
She said securing a car seat or booster seat correctly could be the difference between life and death.
"Really making sure that you have those things installed correctly can save your child's life," she said.
She also encourages veteran parents to get their seats checked since the design and technology of car seats are always changing. She reminds parents to read their vehicle and car seat manuals to make sure they are installing the seat properly.
"Every car seat is going to have a label on it that tells you the height and weight requirements," she pointed out.
After their crash in 2004, Bruce became a car seat technician to teach other parents how to secure their car seats correctly. She said she saw several seats installed incorrectly. "Had they gotten in an accident, there is no way that child would have survived, so definitely go get it checked," she said.
Today, Zyon is 17-years-old and will soon be graduating from high school. Bruce is grateful his car seat was secured 16 years ago and even more grateful for the memories they made since.
"I wouldn't want to miss any of it," she said.
If you want to get your car seat checked for free, visit clickit.utah.gov to find a safety checkpoint near you or call 801-662-CARS.