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Got Kids? Keep them Safe in the Car

Filed under:  Odds & Ends
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According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), roughly 33 children under the age of 10 are killed in an automobile accident every week. That's a grim statistic, but what makes it worse is that recent innovations in child safety devices make it possible to prevent most deaths as well as the vast majority of accident related injuries. It's true that airbags and child seats are nothing new in and of themselves, but sometimes a small change can reap big rewards.

Be Seated.
In recent years, car seat manufacturers have redesigned child seats for cars, replacing plastic parts with aluminum and composite frames, improving upholstery materials to provide better protection and padding, and incorporating quick-release systems that are easier to operate. As well, automakers have redesigned vehicle interiors to accommodate child seats.

One such redesign is five years old this year: LATCH (Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children) systems allow parents and care-takers to install child seats without having to thread seatbelts through the legs of the seat. Instead, seats are connected to a base with specialized fasteners that are secure when in place, but are easy to release in the event of an emergency. By having the LATCH system installed in your vehicle, you are taking one more step toward lowering your premiums and qualifying for more affordable car insurance plans.

Engineers at NASA are also exploring child seat technology. There are no plans to send small children into space, but technology tested in automobiles here on earth are often inspired by space shuttle innovations, and vice versa. NASA's technology includes the ability for video monitoring of the child with a display on the front instrument panel, and other tracking information, including biometric displays for hear and perspiration rates and urinary status. As well, noise-cancelling audio systems prevent ambient noise from reaching sensitive baby ears, and there's a GPS tracking system that allows parents to track the location and condition of their child, even when the car seat is not actually in the car.

Even with all these innovations today, however, the NHTSA says that the biggest part of keeping a child safe in the car involves following the instructions to attach the straps and harnesses of child restraint systems carefully, and in using booster seats for any passenger under 4'9" tall. Many injuries to children, they say, come from improperly installed child seats.

Another auto-related child-safety system is called ChildMinder. It's not a seat, just a smart clip and a key-fob alarm: if a person wearing the alarm moves more than 10 feet away from the car holding the child, an alarm rings. It's a measure to help avoid heat issues, caused by leaving small children alone in locked cars.

ChildMinder is a great idea, but so far, it's just a suggestion. LATCH systems, on the other hand, are now mandatory for all new cars that have back seats, sold in the United States.

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