Expert Q & A with a Child Passenger Safety Advocate
When it comes to traveling with kids, not all parents are aware of best practices when it comes to child restraints. We asked Allana Pinkerton, a certified child safety instructor and the Global Safety Advocate for Diono car seats, for her best advice.
About.com Family Vacations: The FAA recommends—but does not require—that a child weighing less than 20 pounds use a rear-facing child restraint system and that a child weighing 20 to 40 pounds use a forward-facing child-safety seat. Yet federal regulations allow parents to hold children up to 2 years old in their laps on flights. In light of the FAA's recommendations, why do you think so many parents choose affordability over safety?
Allana Pinkerton: I do not think parents are intentionally thinking they are choosing affordability over safety. I believe parents are uninformed about airline crashes, rough take offs and landings, and turbulence.
We do not have data on injuries of unrestrained adults or children on airplanes. As humans, we are idealists, thinking that nothing bad can happen to us, especially on vacation. If parents experience uneventful flights, they would never consider what could happen. Therefore, on their next flight with their children, the “what if?” never occurs to them. And, statistically speaking, air travel is still the safest mode of transportation.
Why Aren't Child Seats Mandatory on Planes?
About.com Family Vacations: When Deborah Hersman recently departed as the chair of the National Transportation Safety Board, she said that “one of her great disappointments” was that child-safety seats aren’t required on planes for young children. The NTSB urged the FAA to develop regulations for restraining all children during takeoff, landing and turbulence, putting children weighing up to 40 pounds in child-restraint systems approved for their height and weight. As an expert in child safety who closely follows policy, what do you think has been the biggest obstacle to the FAA making child restraints mandatory instead of merely recommended?
Allana Pinkerton: I’ve always heard it was about the dollars and that parents would choose to drive instead of fly and that would make it more dangerous for more people. Driving on the road is the most dangerous thing we do on a daily basis.
However, I believe there are many factors to consider: Not all car seats fit on every plane. If an airline considers providing car seats, then there are a multitude of challenges for the airline. Not all children fit in every car seat. How do you maintain those car seats, route them around the country, keep them clean, and free of recalled parts? And who is responsible for setting the harnesses and installing them?
Editor's Note: This NTSB video demonstrates why child safety seats should be required on planes for young children.
How Do You Install a Car Seat on a Plane?
About.com Family Vacations: With airline seats getting more and more cramped, it can be very difficult for parents to install a rear-facing car seat on a plane. What tips do you have about how to choose a car seat for air travel and install it properly?
Allana Pinkerton: The best thing parents can do is call the airline and get the dimensions between the two seats. They should print out and bring with them any information regarding car seat usage on the airline so they can show the flight attendants in case they are not aware of their airline’s policies. Yes, not all flight attendants are familiar with car seats on airplanes.
Another great resource is the manufacturer of the car seat. Be sure to get any measurements they can provide and if there are any special accommodations on airplanes with their seats. Car seats do not have to meet dynamic crash testing for FAA approval. They must meet an inversion test.
Editor's Note: This FAA video explains typical steps for installing a car seat on an aircraft.
What Other FAA-Approved Devices are Available?
About.com Family Vacations: The FAA has approved one harness-type device for children weighing 22 to 44 pounds. Are you aware of other products or services that make it easier for parents to fly safely with young children?
Allana Pinkerton: To date this is the only device approved so far. There is one more that is coming into the market soon which should be out next year. Keep an eye on the RideSafer 3, which will have the capability to have an aircraft attachment strap, sold separately.
What Safety Rules Can Make a Road Trip Safer?
About.com Family Vacations: Summer is the peak season for family road trips. What basic rules of thumb should parents follow to be sure that their child stays safe in his or her car seat?
Allana Pinkerton: Summer vacation is no time to slack off on safety. If anything, it’s a good time to check things like wear and tear on the car seat, your child’s harness height adjustment and installation. When you leave the pool or beach, be sure to put clothing on your child so the harness straps are not on bare skin.
Taking a long car ride means a few naps. Do not encourage your older children to recline back in the vehicle seat where the seat belt does not fit properly. Encouraging the children to stay safe, no matter the season, sends a consistent message to them throughout the year.