Child Passenger Safety advocates get a little nuts at times.  So do researchers.  It’s great to have a statistic to throw around.  I sure like them.  Sometimes the studies that produce these statistics are good.  Other times they are not.  For example, perhaps a study trumpets that some risk is 5 times lower for one thing vs. another.  That’s great, unless the actual risk is astronomically low to begin with.  Five times zero is still zero.  Or maybe they gloss over the fact that there really weren’t enough data points to draw solid conclusions.  Other studies try to shock you about some relatively minor risk by using the overall motor vehicle fatality numbers.  Also not very scientific.  Sometimes the studies don’t even agree.  One study says a booster is the way to go, another says a seatbelt and a DVD player is just as safe.  One says the center seat is safer, another says rear outboard seats are about as safe.  Almost no studies consider correct use of child restraints, an issue that is relevant to many advocates whose children are properly restrained.

Who and what should we believe?

It’s pretty simple.

1) Properly restrain your kids.

If they are an infant, they should be rear facing.  If they are a toddler, they should be in a 5-point harness.  Older kids should be in a booster until a lap/shoulder seatbelt fits them correctly.  Make sure to read the instructions and install and use the child restraint properly.  The majority of fatal injuries are to kids who are unrestrained or improperly restrained.  Should your 2-year old be front-facing or rear-facing?  Should your 6 year old be in a harness or booster?  Is Brand A safer than Brand B?  As long as they are properly restrained, you’ve cut their risks so much that these other issues are most likely to be relatively insignificant.

2) Put them in the back seat.

Second row, third row, center, outboard, LATCH or seatbelt; all valid questions.  Even so, if they are properly restrained in an appropriate rear seating position, these other factors are also relatively minor in comparison.

3) Don’t drive distracted or impaired.

This is another huge risk.  Alcohol.  Drugs.  Cell phones.  Eating.  Whatever you are doing that takes a hand off the wheel or your concentration off the road is a big factor, too.  You can spend $100,000 on what a commercial tells you is the “safest” luxury car and $400 on a child seat and pay the best Child Passenger Safety Technician or Instructor $100 to install it for you.  Doesn’t make a difference if you aren’t paying attention to what the other driver is doing.

Sometimes we lose sight of these three issues when it comes to safely restraining our kids.  It’s fine to debate the smaller details.  There’s no harm in wanting our kids to be as safe as possible.  You can keep them indoors in a padded room, too.  But now that you know what is really important, you won’t have to lose sleep when the next study shows that your child is 2x more likely to die in a child restraint in a floral pattern than one with a solid color.

So maybe you have a son who is 32 months old and weighs 32 pounds.  You know he’s restrained properly in his 7-point harness, Titanium frame child seat with super side impacto cushioning, each and every trip.  That seat is installed so tightly, your husband has burn marks on his palms from pulling on the straps.  When he rocked the carseat to check, your entire 8,000 pound Earth Destroyer SUV moved, too.  Not to mention that you have a spotless driving record and your family truckster SUV has 10-star safety ratings and 14 airbags to go along with its state of the art collision detection anti-vehicle missile system.  The only time you have ever been drinking and driving is after a Starbucks drive-through, and even then you only take a sip at stoplights!  Cell phone?  Hands-free, and you still pull over to the side of the road to talk.  Not even a flying pig could get your eyes off the road or your hands from the 10-and-2 driving position.  Given all that, is turning your son back to rear-facing really going to make any statistically significant difference in his risk of fatal injury, let alone his risk of getting a scratch?  Good luck finding a study relevant to your situation!

It’s still fun to debate the finer points of CPS over at Car-Seat.Org, of course.  Even if you just want to discuss the merits of comparing per capita traffic fatality rates between Russia and Malta.

Please have a safe 2009 from CarseatBlog!