by Jim Adler
The tragic news of an infant death in a stalled car on the Galveston Causeway Sunday lends a sobering reminder that simply doing the right thing by buying and using protective car seats may not always be enough. Car seat safety is no guarantee of survival.
Child safety seats are far more common today, now that each state has passed child occupant protection laws. Yet as many as 1,800 children under age 14 die annually in vehicle accidents.
Even more disturbing is the fact that some of these children, like the child killed Sunday, were killed while sitting in a car seat.
One problem is that in many cases parents unknowingly purchase a defective car seat – a car seat which can kill, rather than protect. Many car seat recalls have been staged by manufacturers, but others remain on the market, and even some worthy car seats are improperly used.
Also, even the best car seat may not protect your child in the event of a catastrophic accident. Car seats, like vehicles themselves even when designed for protection, can do only so much. Attentive, cautious, safe driving also is imperative.
Beyond that, parents need to use their heads and not simply leave it to a car seat to protect their child fully in all situations and at all times.
In the case of the child killed Sunday evening, the 16-day-old boy was an occupant in his grandmother’s car, which stalled while on the southbound lanes of the Galveston Causeway. Due to ongoing road construction, the causeway has no shoulder, so the car was stopped while in a lane of moving traffic.
Hindsight always is better, of course, and hindsight tells us that the child sitting in the back seat, while safely anchored in a car seat, was not safe enough – not in these circumstances, while sitting in a car stalled on a lane with moving traffic approaching from behind.
If there was any place off the road in which to stand, hold the baby and wait for police to arrive, the best thing to have done would have been to remove the child immediately from the vehicle. As Safe Kids teaches, protecting a child always comes first.
As it is, the boy’s grandmother and a 4-year-old boy also in the car remained in the vehicle after Galveston police were called. Then, just before police arrived, another vehicle slammed into their car from behind, trapping and killing the infant in the back seat, and slightly injuring the woman and the 4-year-old.
The boy’s grandmother was not at fault. She cannot be blamed because her car stalled, or that the causeway was under construction or that another vehicle’s driver wasn’t paying enough attention or was in too big of a hurry and hit her from behind. These are tragic circumstances which led to an infant’s death, despite the fact that he was wearing a protective car seat.
But again, simply using such a car seat may not always be enough. All drivers should be alert at all times to all possibilities, and should actively consider doing anything which might enhance survival chances for those riding in their vehicles – particularly defenseless children who, even while secured in a car seat, remain relatively defenseless.
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