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For children, safety first -- sometimes

March 22, 2011 |  7:00 am

Carseat One of my favorite songs about childhood is Bruce Springsteen's "My Hometown," especially these  lyrics:  

I was 8 years old and running with a dime in my hand
Into the bus stop to pick up a paper for my old man

I'd sit on his lap in that big old Buick and steer as we drove through town
He'd tousle my hair and say son take a good look around, this is your hometown.

Just those few lines evoke images of things that have mostly disappeared: a newspaper at a bus stop -– for a dime -- and a big old Buick. 

And, of course, an unrestrained 8-year-old sitting on his dad's lap, steering a car.

I thought of "My Hometown" reading The Times' story on new child-safety seat recommendations for cars.

Seems the American Academy of Pediatrics now believes that children should be kept in rear-facing child-safety seats at least until age 2, and preferably longer.

The pediatricians also recommend that children remain in booster seats until they are 4 feet 9 -– a height most children don't reach until they are between 8 and 12 years old.

Also, forget about sitting on Dad's lap at 8 and driving. 

Even when children are tall enough to change to adult seat belts, the academy's policy is that they should ride in the back seat until age 13.

Wow. Makes you wonder what a future Springsteen will pen:

I was 8 years old and strapped in my car seat by a five-point harness

With nothing in my hand so I couldn't accidentally choke

I was trapped in the back of the little Toytota Prius as my dad drove us around

He’d tap on his navigation system and project it on the rear DVD screen, saying son this is our hometown.

It's not that I'm against child safety. My own kids were always (uh, mostly) in car seats. But as someone who grew up in the 1950s and '60s, I still wonder: How did we survive without child seats and "Baby on Board" signs and the like?

Of course, when it comes to keeping kids safe, some things, sadly, haven't changed enough.

Sunday's Times featured a story on young farmworkers endangered by grain bins in the Midwest. Seems that workers who enter the silos are sometimes sucked under by loose grain and suffocate.

Last year nationwide, 51 men and boys were engulfed by grain stored in towering metal structures that dot rural landscapes, and 26 died -– the highest number on record, according to a report issued by Purdue University.

The story tells of the deaths of 14-year-old Wyatt Whitebread and 19-year-old Alejandro "Alex" Pacas, killed last summer in a grain bin accident in Mount Carroll in northern Illinois.

Safety measures were ignored at the facility, OSHA says, alleging that the company didn't train the young workers, provide safety harnesses or make sure machinery was turned off.

The company's defense?  Its lawyer said it was challenging OSHA's jurisdiction because it is a farmer-owned facility that has fewer than 10 employees.

Which, I suppose, is true -– especially if you factor in that two of those workers are now dead. 

-- Paul Whitefield

Photo: Karen Lutton of Newport Beach places her one-year-old daughter Haley Lutton in her carseat. Credit: Alexander Gallardo/Los Angeles Times

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