Passenger Safety: The Backpack Dilemma

Posted By Brett Markson || 18-Feb-2010

My family participates in a morning carpool. We take turns driving our minivans and SUVs packed with neighborhood kids to school each day. After repeatedly trying to engage the kids in morning conversation, I quickly figured out that the idea of small talk with the middle-aged dad from down the street is not cool to a 9 year old.  By now, I know that my job is to drive, not talk.  But when it comes to safety in my car, I pipe up.  My latest pet peeve: school backpacks.

What do backpacks have to do with auto safety?  A lot. The same kids who show no concern for getting out the house on time are indeed efficiency fanatics when it comes to exiting the car.  As soon as the door slides open, I watch a mad dash for the schoolyard faster than a kid might say "hey, thanks for the ride mister."  They are so fast I hardly even hear a single "goodbye." But that's another story.

The kids' secret to a quick exit?  They sit in the car with their backpacks firmly affixed to their backs.  That way, with a snap of their seat belt release they're out the door.

Here's the problem. Sitting in a car with a backpack sandwiched between your torso and the seat is a recipe for head injuries, neck injuries and spinal cords injuries in the event of an auto accident.  When used properly (and working properly), the seat belt is widely considered the most important safety device in an automobile.  But when used improperly (or when not working properly), the seat belt can cause serious injury and even death.

A typical auto crash can be viewed as two collisions.  The "first collision" occurs when the vehicle impacts another vehicle or a fixed object.  The "second collision" occurs when a vehicle occupant impacts the interior of the vehicle. The second collision immediately follows the first collision.  The purpose of a seat belt is to either prevent the second collision or minimize its injury-producing potential.   A properly fitting lap and shoulder belt snuggly "ties" the occupant to the passenger compartment and allows him or her to "ride down" the crash, thereby minimizing or eliminating injurious occupant contact with the vehicle interior, such as the windshield, steering wheel or the roof.

A backpack wedged between the seat and the passenger leaves the passenger particularly susceptible to injuries.  It adversely affects the fit of the belt and serves a wedge between the occupant's head/neck/torso and the seat/headrest.  In the event of an automobile collision, the occupant is left susceptible to head injuries, neck injuries and spinal cord injuries, to name just a few.

Given the serious risk of injury to our kids, there is no excuse for allowing kids to strap in with a backpack.  And telling kids to take off their backpacks once isn't enough.  I've learned from years of experience that kids lack the capacity to remember this sage instruction.  So, we get to remind them every morning.

Now, to those who say "school is only a short distance away, what's the big deal?," remind them that to consider the statistics.  Progressive Insurance Co. polled 11,000 of its policyholders involved in auto accidents.  Of those, over 50% of the auto accidents occurred within 5 miles of the policyholders' homes.  So chances are, if you are involved in an accident, it will occur close to home.

To those who say, "I'm extra careful with kids in the car," remind them that they have no control over the guy checking email, talking on the phone, drinking a latte, and shaving while barreling through the neighborhood 'cause he's late to a meeting.

To those who say, "not my kids, not my problem," first suggest that they withdraw from the neighborhood carpool altogether.  Short of that, remind them that the law drivers are legally responsible for the safety of their passengers.  That simple.

So next time that backpack-slinging crew of youngsters climbs aboard your trusty school transporter, wait until all backpacks are down before continuing the journey.  That quick check will make all the difference in the event of a collision.

Be safe out there.

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