14News Special Report: The Seat belt Syndrome

14News Special Report: The Seat belt Syndrome

EVANSVILLE, IN (WFIE) - A mother is warning all parents about a common mistake that almost took her daughter's life.

She is pleading with all parents to make sure their kids are in their car seats and that they are using those seat belts properly.

"It's like your worst fear to think about, a car crash might happen to me," said mother Nikki Tuttle.

Like Tuttle, being in an accident with her child would be any parent's worst nightmare. But it's a nightmare that 6-year-old Samantha was lucky to have lived through.

"We should've done better," said Shelly Martin, Samantha's mother. "This was completely avoidable."

Martin has been by her daughter's side at a hospital in Richmond, Virginia since Samantha survived a nearly deadly crash five weeks ago.

Samantha was riding with her Dad when it happened, but Shelly admits they made a crucial mistake.

They thought Samantha was big enough to ride in the back of the car without a booster seat.

"A lot of people seem to think that when the children don't fit so easily in the booster, that it's okay to take them out of the booster," said Martin. "That's not the case."

Samantha also moved the shoulder belt behind her. So now, the lap belt was carrying twice the force and because she's not tall enough without a booster, the lap belt went across her stomach instead of her hips.

"It's called the Seat belt Syndrome," said 
Dr. Charles Bagwell, Chairman of the Division of Pediatric Surgery.

Dr. Bagwell led the team of surgeons who operated on Samantha the night of the crash.

"The far edge of the belt had actually cut through her abdominal wall and she had protruding intestines from that," said Dr. Bagwell.

But Samantha survived and after nearly three weeks in the pediatric acute care unit, she's home.

Now, it's her mother's mission to make sure every parent out there knows what she didn't.

"Because there's a lot of people that just don't even know the requirements or, we thought we did, but apparently no," said Martin.

So, 14 News met with an expert on child safety seats, Indiana State Police Sgt. Todd Ringle.

"Unfortunately with child safety seats, normally the misuse rate is anywhere between 70 to 94-percent," said Sgt. Ringle.

The reason Sgt. Ringle says is many parents are just in a big hurry to get their children from car seats to booster seats because they're so much easier.

But convince can have deadly consequences.

"The goal of a booster seat is to raise the child up so this (the belt) is over the thighs versus the abdominal area."

Most car seats will restrain a child up to 40 pounds, some even up to 65 pounds. But technically in Indiana, a booster seat can be used at 30 pounds.

"But the problem is with kids a lot of times they will take a harness strap and they put it underneath their arm or behind their back and now when they're involved in a car crash their body is propelled forward and if that lap belt is not in the correct position, that lap belt is basically going to intrude in the abdominal area and that child can receive very serious injuries," said Sgt. Ringle.

Which was one of the big problems young Samantha had during her crash.

Sgt. Ringle hopes parents will learn from this mistake, so in the event of a crash, your precious cargo is safe and sound.

"It is important to take a few seconds every day to make sure your child is wearing that seat belt correctly," said Sgt. Ringle.

If you have questions about safety seats and or anything related to child safety, go to safekids.org .

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