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The weather is warming up. I always look forward to the warmer weather, as well as the vacation destinations that come with summer – lakes, reunions, camping. Our family does a lot of traveling. In the winter, we’re off to ski. In the summer, we go on many different trips. Plus, the year-round long drives to the grandparents’ houses.

During our travels, we want safety. It’s a rule in our vehicles to wear seatbelts. Neither my husband nor I will drive unless everyone is buckled up. Our kids are in car seats and booster seats, even the 8-year-old who is technically able to go without. So I pack our kids in their car seats, and relax because they are safe. One statistic I found said the proper use of child restraints can reduce fatalities by 80 percent. Car seats save lives.

Except the times when car seats fail.

I recently spoke with a family who lost their infant daughter in a wintery wreck (names changed for privacy). The following is their story:

The roads were pretty bad that morning. We were on our way to my one-year celebration of sobriety. We couldn’t go the speed limit, which was going to make our trip longer, but we both felt it was very important for us to make it to the celebration. We packed up our baby girl, clipped her into the car seat, tugged on the straps to make sure they were fitting her little body correctly, and hit the road.

There was about an inch of snow when we started out. However, once we turned east, we realized the highway hadn’t been cleared and snow was drifting on the road. Suddenly, I saw a deer in our headlights. I hit the brakes but because of the snow we kept sliding. The car stayed in our lane while we slid but when we hit the deer, it swung part of the car into the other lane. That’s where we came to a stop. I checked on Sarah since the deer hit closest to her, and was relieved she was okay.

That’s when I noticed a car coming at us from the other direction. I remember thinking “Why aren’t they slowing down or stopping?” and then nothing until I woke up. I could hear Sarah screaming “I can’t move!” and “Where’s my baby?”

At that, things clicked back into focus. I got out of the car so I could look at the infant car seat. I couldn’t see our daughter, just Styrofoam and fabric, all ripped loose from the car seat. The back window was busted out, so once I realized our little girl wasn’t in the car, I started searching outside.

I was at least 100 feet from the car when I saw something pink in the snow. I ran over as fast as I could. She was laying there, so peaceful, face up to Heaven, arms at her sides, and her eyes closed. I realized she wasn’t breathing. I scooped her up and ran to the car, grabbed a blanket to wrap her in, and started CPR on the car hood.

I knew she was dead. Her eyes would never open again but I couldn’t stop CPR. I couldn’t give up on my girl.

Mark and Sarah’s story is every parent’s nightmare. They used a car seat. They checked the straps. They installed it in the car and made sure it was tight. Mark said the seat “practically disintegrated” with the impact; the official report said a strap came loose during the impact due to improper installation. Social media was unforgiving. Even before the official report came out, people were harassing the parents, accusing them of child abuse, judging their decision to travel that day, etc. – all without knowing the whole story, and all while they were grieving their loss and recovering from their injuries.

I don’t pretend to know what happened that day. Mark and Sarah are also confused. Plus, they live with the regret and guilt that they could have prevented their daughter’s death.

In his grief, Mark started researching car seats. He found the testing standards.

Do you know the standards? I didn’t before I saw Mark’s post. The national standards state that car seats must pass a head-on collision where both vehicles are going 30 mph.

Only 30 mph? I don’t know many people who drive under 30 mph unless they live in a town, never leave it, and never speed. Even crash tests on adult dummies are done at 35 mph. Admittedly, manufacturers are starting to increasing their standards. They are starting to test side impacts and speeds of 35 mph.

I would guess, since this is national data, the average accident is at 35 mph or less. The majority of our population lives in large cities where the average speed limit is – what? – crawling along at traffic jam pace on the highways? Where the speed limit on most of the streets is 35 mph? What about us, out here in “Nowhere, Hickville, USA” where we actually drive 40+mph on a daily basis?

Not sure how safe I feel anymore, much less trusting car seats with my precious cargo. Various places on the internet have articles regarding the failure of car seats but it isn’t information that’s advertised. Failures include seats separating from the base, injuries resulting from hitting the back of the front seat, LATCH system problems, and car seats disintegrating on impact. The scary thing – these car seats can be on the market because they passed the basic standards.

As a parent, I want my children to be as safe as possible. I will keep using car seats because they DO reduce injuries and fatalities. I’m simply asking this – shouldn’t the testing standards be up to par with the speed at which we drive? If the law requires car seats, shouldn’t the standards reflect the utmost safety? Could Mark and Sarah’s story have ended differently if the testing standards were more stringent?

Resources for more Information:

The National Child Passenger Safety Board

The Car Seat Lady

Find your local SafeKids chapter

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Jessica McCaslin

Jessica is a mom who is working outside the home part-time and who is learning to cope with the ever-changing daily challenges of full-time parenthood. She graduated with her Master's degree in community counseling from the University of Nebraska at Kearney in 2005, and works with a diverse mental health population. Jessica resides in Central Nebraska with her husband and four children on the family ranch.

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