It's a lesson Julie West painfully learned a year ago in June. Her son-in-law, daughter MaryLeigh, and grandson Joseph, were in a head-on collision while driving during a rainstorm on Highway 204.
"According to police, he was driving on the wrong side of the road and hit a pickup truck head-on," Julie remembers. "My daughter was killed instantly."
Julie's nine-month-old grandson Joseph, was strapped into a car seat in the back, but was facing the wrong way. The impact threw his tiny body forward, damaging his neck and spinal cord. "They said if he had been rear facing, he wouldn't have had a neck injury," said Julie.
Joseph survived the accident, but sadly died from his injuries nine months later. Now, all Julie is left with are memories and the clay imprint of Joseph's tiny hand sealed in a shadow box on her living room shelf.
In the US, five children die each day in car accidents, mainly because they aren't properly buckled in. The injuries from those kinds of accidents are something Memorial Health Pediatric ICU physician, Dr. Tom McKee sees all too often. "The most severe we see is head injuries," he said.
That's why in 2004, the State of Georgia passed the Child Safety laws which mandate that children younger than one and weighing less than 20 pounds sit facing the back of the car in a car seat. Between 20 and 40 pounds they can sit in a car seat facing the front. At four years old, and more than 40 pounds, children should be in a booster seat, and stay there until they are at least 4 foot 9.
It's those laws Dr. McKee wishes parents would follow more closely. "A large number of deaths and severe injuries could be prevented by the use of a child restraint seat, secured properly and utilized properly," he explained.
Something else parents need to remember: all car seats do not fit every car or truck. You need to make sure you get one that fits what you drive. Most stores will let you test a seat out before buying it.
Laws and instructions that Julies has memorized. She's also taken a car seat safety course and now teaches parents how properly strap their children in. She does it in honor of Joseph. "If it's just one child that can be saved, it's worth it," she said.
If you want to make sure your car seat is properly installed you can call Safe Kids of Savannah at 353.3148 for an appointment and they will check it for you.
Safe Kids of Savannah will also be holding a car seat safety check at the Backus Children's Hospital on Saturday, September 15.