Kelli England Will, PhD, Professor of Pediatrics at EVMS and a nationally known expert in the field of child safety seats, recommends that parents take advantage of free safety-seat inspections offered by AAA Tidewater Virginia this Saturday, Sept. 23, from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. The inspections will take place at the AAA Corporate Office, 5366 Virginia Beach Blvd., Virginia Beach. 

“Many parents don’t realize that car crashes are children’s leading cause of death,” Dr. Will says, “and that transitioning children out of recommended child restraints too early greatly affects their safety.” 

AAA Tidewater and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration recommends that children be approximately 80 to 100 pounds and at least 4 feet 9 inches tall before they use only a seat belt. 

“One of the biggest issues we see,” Dr. Will says, “is children transitioning out of booster seats too early. Virginia law, which requires children under age 8 to be restrained in a car seat or booster seat, can be misleading for parents because it is only a minimum guideline. In fact, most children will need to be in booster seats long past the age of 8.” 

Specifically, she explains, children must be able to sit back against the vehicle seat with the lap belt low across the hips, with their knees bent at the edge of the seat and with feet touching the floor of the vehicle. The shoulder belt should fit across the center of the chest, away from the face and the neck. 

According to NHTSA, nearly three out of four child safety seats are not used properly. “Securing your children properly in age- and size-appropriate child safety seats is the most effective thing you can do to protect them in the event of a crash,” says Georjeane Blumling, spokesperson for AAA Tidewater. 

Dr. Will and her research team are known for developing the comprehensive Car Safety Now website that promotes car safety for children and teens through programs like “Make It Click,” “Boost ‘Em in the Back Seat,” and “In Control: Beyond Distraction.” The site offers downloadable toolkits for parents and educators. 

“Parents can dramatically reduce their family’s risk,” Dr. Will says, “by ensuring their children are riding in restraints that are appropriate for their size, installed correctly, and in the back seat until age 13.”