Whiplash injuries can be debilitating for most adults, but the risks are far greater in children. The spine strength of a pre-pubescent child is only 25 percent of an adult's spine strength -- it isn't until puberty that their spines grow into their full form. As a result, even minor car collisions can result in whiplash injuries and a more lasting impact on a child's health.
Fortunately, positioning your child's car seat correctly can significantly reduce this risk, along with using appropriate methods of seat belt wear as your child grows. Follow these safety measures to prevent childhood whiplash and ensure that your child can be as safe as possible in a crash scenario.
Fit their seat with custom child head rests
The position of your child's head rest within the car should always be considered in preventing whiplash. When your head is thrown back and forth during a head-on collision, the position of the head rest can make all the difference in preventing the severity of a neck injury. To ensure your child's head is fully supported, you should always position the head rest as close to the back of their head as possible.
Before your child is tall enough to rest their head on a normal car head rest, you should consider fitting a head restraint in place of the regular one that acts as a side head support -- limiting their head's movement during a crash. For infants, a contoured travel pillow will provide suitable head support. These are shaped to prevent stiff necks and slumping, yet soft enough to provide comfort for a newborn's head.
Some new car models even have active head rests that move up and forward to cushion the head and move with it in the event of a collision. Fitting your car with these modifications would be a worthwhile investment for your child's protection against whiplash and their overall safety within cars.
Use the correct seating and belt adjustment for your child's age
Some parents wrongly assume that seat belts alone can provide enough protection for children aged four and above. In actual fact, children are still too small at this age for a standard sized belt to fit them properly -- and this slight slack in the belt will provide inadequate protection in the event of a crash.
Before your child can rely solely on a seat belt for safety, appropriate seating adjustments must be made to suit each stage of their development. Below is a guide to your child's correct seat belt use and seating adjustment ranging from infancy to young adult age.
- Infant - children up to one year old should be placed in a rear-facing baby seat in the back (never the front) of the car. Never carry infants in your arm in the event of a crash -- the safest position they can be in is the back seat.
Important tip: An infant should never be placed in a seat that is equipped with an airbag. For children of all other ages and sitting in a forward-facing position, airbags will provide safe and suitable protection, but the release of an airbag against the back of an infant's baby seat can be dangerous.
- Toddler - Toddlers can remain in a baby seat until the age of 3. Up until this age, your child should be in a forward facing position and secured in with a tether strap (to tighten accordingly). Your child must be over 1 year old and over 9 kg to be seated safely in this manner.
- Booster seat age - Your child can use a booster seat once they are over 18 kg and up to the age of 9-10. To secure them in their booster seat, a lap belt must fasten comfortably over their hip bones, their shoulder and in front of their chest.
- Youth - At aged 9-10 and above, your child will be ready for a regular seat belt. Their lap belt should be kept snug across their hips and moderately tight across their chest. Children should remain in the backseat until age 12 and over.
Adhering to the above safety measures will ensure your child is properly restrained as they grow -- lessening the risk of being thrown around within the car in the event of a collision. For your own peace of mind, why not let a specialist help in assisting your child's car seat fitting? A professional can demonstrate how your child's seat can be fitted into your car so that you feel confident about fitting and adjusting their seat yourself -- guaranteeing them in-car safety at every stage of their life.