Secure the children

October 23, 1992

Had someone a camcorder at the scene, the tape would have made the nightly news coast-to-coast: An out-of-control tractor-trailer rolled on top of a mid-size car on U.S. 40 in Edgewood last month, crushed it like a soda can -- and the infant sleeping inside didn't get a scratch.

"When I came over the hill and saw that car pinned beneath that rig, my stomach did flips," said Tfc. Tom Wardrope of the Maryland State Police, the first one on the scene. "I knew an infant was in that car and I expected the worst."

Police said that Halley Walizer, the 14-month-old daughter of Joseph Walizer and Charlene Somers of Edgewood, was saved because her head was just below the top of a child-safety seat.

Fending off wayward 18-wheelers is not the standard call of duty for a child car seat, but the miraculously fortunate outcome of that incident underscores the point: Child seats save lives.

A new law that took effect Oct. 1 makes Maryland the 36th state in the nation to allow police to fine all motorists up to $40, regardless of where they're from, for not having children properly secured in a vehicle. Unlike the adult seat belt law, police don't need to cite another offense in order to ticket a driver for not securing a child properly. Children younger than 4 or who weigh less than 40 pounds must be buckled in a child safety seat. Children younger than 10 must be in a seat belt.

Safety experts say that in a crash at 30 miles an hour, a 10-pound infant, not properly secured, would take on the force of a 300-pound projectile. Don't be foolish; you could not hold a child on your lap in a sudden, violent crash. Motor vehicle accidents are among the leading causes of death for children older than 6 months. Moreover, more children under age 5 are killed or crippled as passengers in vehicle crashes than the total number of youngsters killed or injured by the seven most common childhood diseases: whooping cough, tetanus, diphtheria, measles, mumps, rubella and polio.

It's also not enough to just use a child safety seat. You must use it correctly. About 98 percent of all Americans buckle up their children, but only 22 percent do so correctly, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Read the directions. Use locking clips when necessary. Face the seat backward for infants under 18 pounds.

Children may enjoy playing with the highway safety mascots, those Incredible Crash Dummies, but, as the revised Maryland law should emphasize to parents and guardians, this is no game.

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