One lesson they really hammer home, when you’re a new parent, is the importance of carseats.
Hospitals won’t let you take a newborn home from the hospital unless you can show you have a carseat. And they warn you of this fact in Lamaze class and in all the parenting books and on all the parenting websites.
I had a baby six months ago, and we had our carseat installed at a fire station when I was in my third trimester. Fire stations are recommended because a lot of carseats are so complicated to install, you need help from specially trained safety officials. My child, to be sure, has never traveled a mile in a car without a carseat, so in my case, anyway, the campaign succeeded admirably.
Since people know I’m a new mom, I sometimes get sent scary articles about mistakes you can make with your carseat that can kill your child. (For the record, don’t put your child in a carseat in a winter coat, and don’t put your child in an unstrapped car seat for napping.)
There’s a lot of emphasis on carseats because the public health community has rallied around them, and for good reason. For kids under 1, carseats reduce the risk of death by 71 percent, and for kids ages 1 to 4, risk is reduced about 54 percent, according to the CDC.
So carseats are crucial and necessary, but as a tool, they have some limitations. They aren’t tested at speeds higher than 35 miles per hour. And they’re designed to minimize the damage from front end collisions, meaning they can be of limited use in side and rear impact situations.
The reality is that driving is inherently risky, especially for child passengers, and the best a carseat can do is mitigate that risk. Carseats help when you’re in a collision — the safest thing to do is avoid collisions in the first place. But when you have a baby, nobody says, “Hey, to protect your kid, maybe try driving less, taking transit more, or just avoid highways and don’t drive at higher speeds.” Even the CDC’s advice for parents doesn’t go beyond recommending carseats and seat belts, with one reference to drunk driving.