Uhlmann boys, photoJessica Uhlmann knows how important car seat safety is.

The Williamsburg, Iowa, mother of three was driving her sons – ages 18 months, 5, and 7 – to their grandmother’s house one morning in June 2018 when an oncoming vehicle crossed into their lane and hit their car head-on. Although all three boys were in car seats and booster seats in the back, they all sustained injuries that required emergency medical treatment. All four were taken by ambulance to University of Iowa Stead Family Children’s Hospital.

Jessica and 18-month-old Ethan were cleared with bumps and bruises and discharged from the emergency room, but 7-year-old Jacob and 5-year-old Wyatt sustained more serious injuries and were admitted. Jacob was sitting in a booster seat with the seatbelt on, but the force of the crash was so great it dislocated his hip and tore some of his hip muscles.

Wyatt’s injuries were more extensive. Though he’d been sitting in a booster seat with a full back, he had pushed his shoulder strap behind his back without Jessica knowing. The impact of the crash thrust his upper body forward and he hit his face on the car’s console, resulting in a broken jaw, cheekbone, and left arm. Several of his teeth were also knocked out in the crash.

Both boys were admitted for two days; though Jacob’s hip was popped back into place, he required a MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) to assess for damage to his ligaments, and was monitored for pain management. Wyatt required surgery to repair his broken bones as well as to address multiple lacerations inside and outside of his mouth. Once they were discharged, the boys continued to be seen by oral surgery and orthopedics.

Despite the boys’ injuries, Jessica knows it could have been much worse if they weren’t in their car seats.

“My children are alive today because they were fastened in their car seats,” Jessica says. “I had no control over the car that hit us. I know I did everything right and I still could not avoid the person coming at us head-on.”

Jessica says she was like most parents with small children, eager to put her boys into booster seats because it was so much easier.

“What I failed to do was to take my son into account,” she says. “Is my son responsible enough to always have his straps where they belong to secure him? Wyatt, who was 48 pounds and could ride in a booster seat, sustained all of his injuries because he slipped his shoulder belt behind his back to be more comfortable when I wasn’t looking.”

“It was the worst moment of my life, turning around and seeing his face after the accident,” she recalls. “If I can spare another parent that feeling through this message, it’s all worth it.”

How can you keep your kids safe?

Select a car seat based on your child’s age and size, and choose a seat that fits in your vehicle and use it every time. 

  • Always refer to your specific car seat manufacturer’s instructions; read the vehicle owner’s manual on how to install the car seat using the seat belt or LATCH system; and check height and weight limits.
  • To maximize safety, keep your child in the car seat for as long as possible, as long as the child fits within the manufacturer’s height and weight requirements.
  • Keep your child in the back seat at least through age 12.

Our safety experts can help you select the best options for your family.

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