If I could give you one simple thing to do that could save your child's life would you do it? Most people would say "absolutely, of course!" Well here it is: BUCKLE UP CHILDREN UNDER 13 IN THE BACKSEAT. Sounds simple, right? Yup, but unfortunately most children go from the booster seat to the front seat. I think it's almost like a rite of passage where after kids get out of a booster they think they are a "big person" and can sit in front. I don't think it's a conscious decision, but one that's left up to the child and not given much thought.
Now I know you're thinking "why can't my child sit in front?" First of all, children riding in the front seat are 40 percent more likely to be injured in a crash than those riding in the back seat. Second, frontal crashes are the most common type of crash therefore raising the probability of being injured in a crash when sitting in the front. Since motor vehicle crashes are the #1 cause of death in children 14 and under, we want to do everything possible to keep our children safe!
The front seat poses many risks for young passengers. The front passenger compartment is more likely to have intrusion than the back seat area in frontal crashes. When that intrusion occurs, the front seat passenger is being thrown forward and their head and or chest will have contact with the dash, windshield or both. On the other hand, when the back seat passenger is being thrown forward they will have contact with softer surfaces such as the seat in front of them.
Next we need to discuss front airbags. When used in combination with seatbelts, front airbags work very well to protect older children and adults. But, when young children are placed in front of an airbag, it's a recipe for disaster. Children are often too close to the airbag when it deploys. They are leaning forward playing with the radio, digging in the glove box or reaching for something. As far as deployment, airbags inflate at a very high velocity. When deployment occurs, airbags hit adults in the chest but because of their smaller size hit children in the head. Because of the deployment aspects, airbags can injure or kill children in a crash that might otherwise been survivable. Yes, there are on/off switches and weight sensor airbags that deploy slower and with less force for a smaller person. This sensor technology is not perfect and therefore it is still best practice to have children under 13 in the back seat. If you have front airbags, you have a warning on your visor to put children in the back seat. Vehicle manufactures are the expert in crash dynamics, and they put out this warning for good reason.
Finally it just makes sense to place children the farthest away from the impact at the time of the crash. Frontal collisions are the most common so up the odds of survival and put them in the back. Furthermore, the center back seating position is the furthest away from all intrusion points so do one better and sit the child in that position.
February is North Dakota Child Passenger Safety month and I wanted to bring this life saving issue to your attention. I think about it every day as I patrol and see kids under the age of 13 in the front seat. I know that when I can see just the tops of their foreheads they are too small and that it is dangerous for them to be riding in the front seat. Simple yet effective: Buckle up every trip in the back seat! Make it a lifesaving habit!