South Pittsburgh Reporter - Serving South Pittsburgh Since 1939

Safety council learns how to show a little restraint in buckling up in the car


October 2, 2007

"What does a seat belt do," asked Bob Hrabar from the UPMC Child Safety Transportation Department at the September meeting of the Zone 3 Public Safety Council.

The former paramedic echoed the responses from the audience saying that the seat belt keeps the driver and passengers in the car in the event of an accident. He quickly added that people are four times more likely to die in an accident if they are thrown from the vehicle, debunking the excuse of not wanting to get trapped in a vehicle after an accident that some drivers and passengers use.

He noted that six children die in car crashes everyday in this country with many people saying that "it was an accident" the children died in.

"If the child wasn't properly restrained, we can't really call it an accident," Mr. Hrabar said.

Christine Scalise joined in the presentation to talk about the different types of child safety seats and who is required to ride in them and for how long. "Most people install the child safety seats improperly," she said.

According to Pennsylvania law, who has to be buckled up she asked. "Everybody," was the universal response. She added there is an extra penalty for drivers if they are pulled over and everyone 18-years-old and under isn't buckled up.

In addition, all children from age birth to four-years-old must be secured in an approved car seat anywhere in the vehicle; Children ages four to eight-years old must be secured in a seat belt system and an appropriate child booster seat anywhere in the vehicle; and, drivers are responsible for securing children in the appropriate restraint system.

Ms. Scalise pointed out that in the state, there are primary and secondary laws governing penalties for unrestrained passengers in vehicles. While adult drivers can't be pulled over for not wearing a seat belt alone, they can be stopped and cited for not having a child four-years-old and younger not properly restrained.

A child in a mother's arms falls into the category of not being properly restrained she said. Doing a quick calculation, Ms. Scalise said that if a vehicle was traveling at 25 mph and a mother was holding a 10-pound infant, it would take 250 pounds of force to hold the child in a crash.

As far as adults in a car crash, Mr. Hrabar said the danger in not being buckled is that the "unrestrained person crashes into those who are." "Your name changes to Rec-O-Chet."

He said all loose objects are best stowed away in the trunk where they won't become projectiles in a crash.

"The seat belt holds you in and you want to hold everything else in," Ms. Scalise added. "If you are unbelted you're going to hit something. You (then) won't be able to extricate yourself. You won't be able to get anyone else out."

She noted that less than one-half of one percent of all crashes involve fire or submersion in water.

Child safety seats include rear facing infant seats; convertible seats; combination seats and backless booster seats.

* Rear facing infant seats are for children from birth to one-year-old and at least 20 pounds and protect the child's head in the event of a crash.

* The convertible seat transforms from a rear facing to forward facing when the child is large enough.

* The combination seat is a forward facing seat with a harness for children up to 40 pounds.

* A booster seat will secure children up to 100 pounds using the vehicle's seat belt.

Is there a law for how old a child has to be to not ride in a booster seat? No, but the child should continue to ride in the appropriate seat for their size and weight.

Ms. Scalise said that generally speaking, once a child reaches 4'9" they are about the right height for seat/shoulder belts.

She said that they recommend everyone under age 13 ride in the back seat. One reason for this is that if there is an accident, the airbag deploys with such force that it could injure a young child.

"The center rear seat is the safest place in the vehicle," she added. "It's not a reward (for a child) to sit in the front seat. If necessary, push the (front seat) all the way back and make sure the seat belt is tight."

Ms. Scalise also pointed out that child safety seats carry expiration dates that last six years. She cautioned parents against using old or used seats as that they may not be registered to the current user. In the event of a recall, the user wouldn't be notified.

Parents can have their child safety seats inspected on Fridays between noon and 2 p.m. at the Pittsburgh Bureau of Police Special Deployment Division (old Zone 4), 312 South Main Street, near the West End Circle. Appointments are necessary by calling 412-937-3051.


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