A car seat mystery
Modern automobiles have multi-point airbags and self-adjusting seatbelts. They have crumple zones and safety glass and I-beams in the doors. Some cars have blind-spot sensors and alarms that alert you if you start to fall asleep at the wheel. If you're bad at parallel parking, there are now cars that will do the job for you. We have ABS and GPS and dynamic stability control. Our cars can talk to us, massage us, automatically heat us and cool us, and correct some of the mistakes we make while driving that otherwise might kill us. But with all the impressive improvements in human safety and comfort engineered into modern automobiles there remains one baffling, incomprehensible omission.
No car we know of has a simple, automated, fool-proof system for attaching child safety seats. All cars are required to have side and back anchor points and some are more accessible than others. But properly attaching a car seat - cinching it securely in place so that lateral and for/aft movement is limited to no more than two inches, will tax the strength and ingenuity of most able-bodied parents who must sometimes kneel in the seat itself to sufficiently compress the car cushions beneath it to tighten the straps to keep the seat in place.
And that explains why numerous studies, conducted by the National Highway Safety Administration, by AAA and by numerous insurance companies have all concluded that between 72 and 95 percent of all child safety seats are improperly installed. It also explains why police agencies find it necessary to provide specialized training to officers who can then instruct parents in proper car seat installation.
The Rohnert Park CHP office has a child seat installer, and the Sonoma PD's traffic safety officer, Mike Baraz, has undergone a 40-hour training session to provide car seat installation assistance to the public.
We're grateful for the help provided, but that help should not be necessary. Car makers already have technology for automatically tightening seatbelts. Why that same technology hasn't been mandated and implemented to anchor and cinch down child car seats is a mystery.
Parents should be able to connect their kids' car seats to anchor points that instantly and automatically lock the seats in place with no further human effort required. There is no conceivable reason such a system could not be readily and inexpensively designed, and if it increased the cost of new cars by even a couple of hundred dollars the investment would be hard to argue with.
We've raised this issue several times in the past and, frankly, we don't get it. We invite our legislators - at both the state and federal level - to help us resolve the mystery and guarantee our children the safety their car seats are supposed to provide and too often don't.
Every year some 250,000 children are injured in vehicle accidents nationwide and about 2,000 die from their injuries. Kids make up about 5 percent of the total yearly car accident fatality statistics, although no one seems to know how many deaths are attributed to improper seat installation. Whatever the answer, the number should be zero.