Stories about: Vehicular safety

Making sure your children aren’t driving distracted

A new study released by the prestigious New England Journal of Medicine attempts to show just how dangerous distracted driving can be for young people. The report states that drivers, especially young and inexperienced ones, are at a far greater risk to get into a car accident when they get distracted by things like cell phones, looking at roadside scenery or eating while driving.

And while the study’s findings aren’t exactly groundbreaking, it is cold hard proof of just how serious a problem distracted driving has become in the mobile communication era.

So, if we all know that distracted driving is dangerous, what can we do to make sure the message sticks with young drivers, most of whom have grown up with a cell phone always within reach? It’s a question Maria McMahon, MSN, manager of the Trauma Center at Boston Children’s Hospital, has spent a lot of time thinking about. “As a mother, one of my biggest fears was my son getting his license,” she says. “Cars are dangerous machines. When you factor in all the mistakes a young, inexperienced driver can make, even without distractions, it’s more than enough to scare any parent.”

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Properly installed car seats save lives. Is your child’s seat secure?

Motor vehicle injuries are one the leading causes of death among children in the United States. But many of these deaths could be prevented. Studies show that placing children in age- and size-appropriate car and booster seats can reduce serious and fatal car injuries by more than half. But remember, having the right car seat alone isn’t always enough—parents must make sure it has been installed correctly to fully protect the children who use them. 

Steven and Charles Novak

When Justine Novak brought her 3-year-old son Steven to a local bike helmet fitting and safety seminar, she though it’d be a nice way to spend an afternoon and double-check her son’s helmet. She had no idea that information she learned there would eventually save his life, and the life of his 1-year-old brother Charles.

The safety seminar was put on by the Injury Prevention Program at Boston Children’s Hospital, at the request of one of Justine’s neighbors. That morning Barbara DiGirolamo, MEd, an injury prevention specialist with the program, went to Justine’s neighborhood to check the helmets of all children in attendance to make sure they were the appropriate size and shape, and that they fit correctly. She also looked them over to ensure each was still in good, working condition because even a single crash can damage a helmet to the point where it’s no longer useful. Studies show that a child with an old, damaged or poor-fitting helmet is nearly twice as likely to sustain a brain injury in a bicycle accident.

After all the helmets were tested and adjusted to fit perfectly, DiGirolamo set up a bike obstacle course for the children, then handed out safety pamphlets to parents and offered them safety tips on a number of topics. Knowing she’d soon be in the market for new car seats because both Steven and Charles were outgrowing theirs, Justine asked DiGirolamo if she had any recommendations. She suggested Justine buy the seats directly through the Injury Prevention Program, which sells top-of-the-line car seats at cost, and then have a Certified Child Passenger Safety Technician (CPST) install them right into the vehicle. (If you prefer to buy a seat from another vendor, or already own a seat and just want to make sure it’s installed correctly, our safety technicians will assist you, free of charge.)

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Leaving a child alone in a car can quickly turn deadly

In the past 15 years, more than 550 children across the United States have died from heatstroke after being left alone in a car. That’s an average of 37 lives—an entire classroom full of children—lost each year to a completely avoidable accident.

Most of the deaths occur when a parent simply forgets his or her child is in the back seat. It sounds hard to believe, but parenting is hard work, and sometimes when people get frazzled careless mistakes are made. Data show that heatstroke tragedies happen more often when there is an interruption to the parents’ daily routine.

For instance, imagine your alarm clock didn’t go off one morning and you’re running very late to work. Somewhere between merging in and out of traffic and checking your email on your phone, you completely forget to drop your child off at daycare. Already 10 minutes late for a meeting you jump out of the car and rush inside, too preoccupied to notice your child quietly sleeping in the backseat.

Considering vehicles heat up quickly—as much as 19 degrees in 10 minutes—a car can go from uncomfortable to dangerous in minutes, especially for young children whose body heat can spike up to five times faster than adults. Once their internal temperature hits 104 degrees, the major organs begin to shut down; when it reaches 107 degrees, the child could die.

And it doesn’t need to be the dog days of summer for this to occur. Even on a partially cloudy, 80-degree day, the inside of a closed car can quickly jump to 100 degrees.

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Should my child still be using a booster seat?

Flickr/ Neeta Lind

Right around the time he turned 7, Jameson Mannix started dreading the ride to school. That was the age he realized he was the only boy in his class still using a booster seat. When he complained, his mother, Rebekah Mannix, MD, MPH, of Boston Children’s Division of Emergency Medicine, explained that without a booster seat the seat belt wouldn’t fit him correctly because his seat belt rested on his throat and stomach instead of lying across his hips and chest. In the event of a crash, she told him, the belt could damage his intestines and spine, which is very dangerous.

But Jameson, like most kids his age, was far more concerned with “fitting in” than a well-fitting seatbelt.

“No matter how much we discussed it, Jameson kept going back to the fact that he was the only one in his class that had to use a booster seat,” Mannix remembers. “I told him that in Massachusetts there was a law requiring kids under 8 years old or 4 feet, 9 inches to use a booster seat, which meant he technically HAD to use one. That resonated with him a little, but he still fought it almost every morning.”

To help drive home the point, Mannix began researching data on the effectiveness of booster seats and booster seat laws on deaths and injuries related to car accidents, in hopes of strengthening her case for Jameson that booster seat laws for children his age existed for a reason. As she scanned the available data she found plenty of studies linking booster seats to decreased fatalities and injuries, but noticed that laws stating how old or tall children needed to be before they could legally travel without a booster changed from state to state.

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