Protecting child passengers: A closer look at the new car seat law
South Carolina parents now have more incentive to follow the American Academy of Pediatrics’ recommendations for properly securing children in child passenger restraint systems. As of May 19, 2017, state law was toughened as well.
“The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children remain rear facing until they are 2 years old,” Penny Shaw, program coordinator for Safe Kids Spartanburg, said. “It has to do with the spinal alignment and neck injury when they are younger than 2.”
State law now requires that an infant or child under two years of age must be properly secured in a rear-facing child passenger restraint system in a rear passenger seat of the vehicle until the child exceeds the height or weight limit allowed by the manufacturer of the child passenger restraint system being used.
Shaw recommends that parents check the manuals for both the seat and the vehicle. Rear facing seats should not be tethered, but forward facing seats should always be tethered, if a tether is available in the car.
Sound confusing? It can be. That’s why car seat checks are critical.
“You should have your car seat checked by a certified child passenger safety technician as soon as it is installed,” Shaw said. “We recommend having them checked seasonally, just like you change the batteries in your smoke detector.”
Safe Kids Upstate estimates at least 80-percent of all car seats in Greenville, Pickens and Oconee counties are not installed or used correctly, putting lives at risk. The non-profit organization offers free car seat inspections at nine locations across the Upstate. Appointments can be scheduled by phone at 864-454-1100 or online at safekidsupstate.org/child-passenger-safety.
Children who are at least age 2 or who have outgrown the height and weight limits for their rear facing seat, must be secured in a forward-facing child safety seat with a harness in a rear passenger seat of the vehicle. State law requires the child ride that way until he or she exceeds the highest height or weight requirements of the seat.
The chest clip on five-point harness should be at arm pit level with the straps secure, according to Shaw.
“It should be a finger’s depth,” she said. “You don’t want to be able to pinch it an inch.”
The angle of seats is also important. Many are now equipped with angle indicators that change with the child’s age.
“Make sure that you follow the recommendations for the angle of the seat,” Shaw said. “Check the level. There may be a bubble or a line.”
Children older than age 4 who have outgrown the height and weight recommendations of their seat must be secured by a belt-positioning booster seat in a rear seat of the vehicle, using both lap and shoulder belts.
The new law also changes the age at which children are legally allowed to ride in the front seat of a vehicle to 8. It was previously 6. Shaw said the AAP recommends that children ride in the back seat until age 13.
After age 8 or when a child is at least 57 inches tall, an adult seat belt may be used if it properly secures the child. A visit with a child passenger safety technician can help determine if a child can safely ride without a booster. Shaw said booster seats are recommended until a child is both 57 inches tall and at least 80 pounds.
“The most important thing before weight is height,” she said. “The main focus on seat belts is that they prevent ejection, not injury.”
Children should never put the shoulder portion of a seat belt behind them, something Shaw said is a common habit for some kids, indicating they likely still need to use a booster seat.
In addition to restraining children properly, parents should set up a system to ensure that a child is never left in a hot car. Even the best, most attentive parent can get distracted. According to Kids and Cars, an average of 37 children have died per year – one child every nine days – in the U.S. from vehicular heat stroke. Shaw said establishing a safeguard is important for parents, grandparents and other caregivers.
“Put your purse or cell phone in the backseat of the car,” she said. “The temperature of the car rises 10 degrees every 20 minutes. The longer you leave it, the hotter it gets.”
Need to know
South Carolina’s new child passenger restraint law: http://www.buckleupsc.com/safety_seat_law.asp
The American Academy of Pediatrics’ recommendation for child passenger safety: https://www.healthychildren.org/English/safety-prevention/on-the-go/pages/Car-Safety-Seats-Information-for-Families.aspx
Safe Kids’ car seat tips: https://www.safekids.org/tip/car-seat-tips
Get help with installing or checking your child’s car seat:
Safe Kids: https://www.safekids.org/coalition/safe-kids-spartanburg or 864-542-5050 (Spartanburg) or http://safekidsupstate.org or 864-454-1100 (Greenville/Pickens)
Still need help?
Upstate Parent teamed with Safe Kids Upstate in May to produce a live Facebook video in which their staff demonstrated the correct way to install a child passenger seat and answered readers questions about the new law. Find those videos online at www.facebook.com/UpstateParentMagazine.