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Cara Klemm, 31, Killed in WI Crash; Three Sons 6, 4, and 1 Survive


Cara Klemm, 31 of Brillion, Wisconsin, was killed in a collision while driving what appears to have been a  red 2009-2014 Volkswagen Jetta SportWagen.

The collision occurred with an unnamed male driver from Gillett who was driving a dump truck on Thursday, April 6th, 2017 at around 10 AM. The collision occurred at the intersection of Highway32/ 57 and Country Road Z / Hill Road in Holland in Brown County, Wisconsin. Cara died at the scene. The dump truck driver survived and was treated at the scene for minor injuries. Cara’s 3 children, Wyatt, 6; Wesley, 4;  and Wesley, 1 also survived with mild injuries. Aside from her children, Cara is survived by her husband, the father of the three boys.


Per reports from ABC 2 WBAY, Cara was eastbound on County Z and did not stop at a stop sign. The Jetta was hit in the front by a southbound dump truck described by the Brown County Sheriff’s office as “fully loaded”; the crash appears to have occurred at the intersection.

Per Lt. John Bain from the Sheriff’s Office, neither alcohol nor drugs appeared to be factors in the crash. Cara died at the scene while her sons, who were in car seats, were mildly injured. The dump truck driver was treated at the scene. An image of the vehicle in storage after the crash is available here while video of the vehicle is available here. Investigators later stated she had no chance of survival due to the primary impact occurring just forward of the driver’s seat. However, they noted that the three car seats in the back seat were virtually untouched. Captain Dan Sanberg, one of the first responders from the Brown County Sheriff’s Office described the seats as age appropriate and credited them with helping hte children survive with minor injuries. Per Kimberly Hess from the Center for Childhood Safety’s description, the 1-year old was rear-facing.

After the crash, Cara’s husband, Teddy Klemm, credited his wife’s proper use of car seats for saving their sons’ lives. He then went on to plead with other parents to properly restrain their children in car seats whenever they traveled. He noted how he was always lazy and would simply let her strap them in, but how she would always make sure seats were anchored with tightly strapped harnesses. Teddy noted that Wyatt had two black eyes likely from hitting the front vehicle seat with his face, but did not have additional injuries. Wesley, who was sitting behind his mother in a high-back booster, apparently received a slight cut above his eye. Wiley received a few scratches on the top of his head, but was otherwise perfectly fine.

“It was kind of hard to hear from him that he was checking her over and pushing on her and opening her eyes and all that stuff to say, come on, mom wake up, and she didn’t,” says Teddy.

“Be more comprehensive, because I’m telling you, I would never in a million years expected this to ever happen, and it can, and it did,” he says.

“You share your life together and you think you’re going to grow old together to watch your kids grow up and be good wholesome adults someday by all of your labors, and something like this comes along and just throws it all upside down,” said Teddy Klemm.


The Outback is one of the safest vehicles on the road. But like every other vehicle, it isn't designed to protect occupants from side impacts above ~30 mph.
The Jetta SportWagen is one of the safest vehicles on the road. But like every other vehicle, it isn’t designed to protect occupants from side impacts above ~30 mph.

This is yet another senseless tragedy on our bloodbath of a road network. Reviewing the facts as presented, it seems clear that Cara was responsible for the collision. We don’t know how she was distracted (e.g., a phone, fatigue, daydreaming, talking to her children), but we can analyze the crash and the larger context of the tragedy.

The Jetta SportWagen

The ’09-’14 Jetta SportWagen is one of the safest cars on the road, and one of the best vehicles you could ask to be in before an imminent side impact. It received a “good” score overall and in all subcategories in the IIHS side impact test as well as a 5 star NHTSA side score. The side impact intrusion resistance as measured by the IIHS clocked in at 15.5 cm, which is one of the best side impact scores you can get in a station wagon even in 2017. It was a good vehicle.

If this sounds familiar, it’s because it’s exactly what I wrote when describing a similar crash from this past summer involving a young mother, a station wagon, rural roads, and a side impact while she drove with her 3 children. However, in that crash, which also involved one of the safest vehicles of the road, the mother (who was pregnant) and her 3 sons died. So what made the difference?

As in that case, the Jetta SportWagen was designed to handle 143.7KJ of kinetic energy in a side impact collision safely. In my experience calculating forces, individuals tend to survive up to 200% of designed force tolerances in their vehicles. Above that, however, survival odds drop significantly; I’d estimate the survival rate at 300% of expected forces drops to somewhere around 33%. Around how many KJ of energy did the dump truck transfer?

I’ve written about dump truck crashes before (e.g., here and here). The results are very frequently fatal, simply due to the massive amounts of kinetic energy carried by even empty dump trucks. A fully loaded truck can weigh 60,000 pounds or more. Using that as a baseline estimate and given the likely speeds of the collision (given the road design, I’d estimate 55 mph), the collision likely impacted at least 8.23 MJ (8,226 KJ) of energy into the dump truck / SportWagen. That would ordinarily be a fatal amount of energy for the SportWagen (or any passenger vehicle) to handle, especially when keeping in mind that the standard side impact test simulates 143KJ of energy (a 3300-lb sled impacting a vehicle at 31 mph). So if the SportWagen faced 5752%, or 57x the force it was designed to make survivable, how did anyone in it survive?

While it would be easy to give credit to the car seats, we do need to be realistic. Orphan seats they were; immortal seats they are not. Children do still die in rear-facing car seats; it’s just far less common due to how incredibly protective they are since they work with physics instead of against it. In this case, an examination of the photos and videos of the post-crash SportWagen provide the likely answers. It appears the car was impacted directly ahead of the driver door; this likely spun the vehicle severely and pushed it far away. It likely didn’t roll it, as evidenced by the virtually pristine right side of the vehicle (visible in the video above).

However, the forces of the dump truck were likely absorbed by the engine bay and the motion of the vehicle, with the most dangerous impact occurring away from the back seat area where the boys were stationed. Cara likely perished due to her proximity to the epicenter, while the boys survived due to being well restrained far from the impact, relatively speaking. It’s not the best explanation, but it’s the best I can come up with after reviewing this and similar cases in the past. Had the point of impact occurred directly at the driver’s door or any farther toward the rear of the vehicle, all three boys would likely have perished, as was the case in the tragedy I referenced above involving Lindsey and her boys.

Vision Zero

As usual, though, as tempting as it is to look at this as one more case study of personal responsibility, we mustn’t start and stop by shaking our heads at the fact that Cara Klemm didn’t stop at the stop sign at the intersection. Why she didn’t stop doesn’t matter very much if our goal is to eliminate all car deaths, as we’ll never reach a point where every driver is paying attention 100% of the time. I certainly don’t, and I don’t believe there is another living being who does. I’ve just been lucky not to have not being paying attention when my life depended on it.  A better approach is to look toward best practices–i.e., Vision Zero principles–so see how such a collision could have been either avoided or mitigated. And best practices here indicate, as they did in the Schmidt case, that a road such as that which enabled this collision should never have existed.

Once again, VZ principles forbid speed limits above 50 kph (31mph) at intersections where the potential for side impacts exist. Now, given the fact that the vehicle that hit the SportWagen weighed up to 20x more than a typical passenger vehicle, it’s entirely possible the SportWagen would not have been able to protect Cara anyway. In fact, a 60,000 lb truck would still have delivered 2.45MJ at 30 mph, a life-ending amount of force. However, given the fact that Cara’s sons survived the crash which involved forces 3x higher, it’s entirely possible that Cara might have survived had the forces been 3x lower. Remember, it wasn’t a direct hit to the occupant cabin of the SportWagen–had that been the case, everyone in the vehicle would have died. And as much of an advocate as I am for proper car seat use, I don’t believe even rear-facing all 3 children would have kept them alive from a direct hit by a dump truck at speed. But the lower the speeds of all vehicles involved in a given collision, the wider the window of survivability opens.

In this case, it didn’t open enough for Cara. But the fact that her sons survived meant that something in this crash was survivable, and had the intersection’s speeds been governed by best practices, it’s possible she might have lived.

If you find my information on best practices in car and car seat safety helpful, you can do your shopping through this Amazon link. Canadians can  shop here for Canadian purchases. Have a question or want to discuss best practices? Join us in the forums!

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What are the Best Car Seats for Preschoolers (And Why Should They Rear-Face)?

Preschoolers can forward-face during piggy-back rides, but should always rear-face during car rides.
Preschoolers can forward-face during piggy-back rides, but should always rear-face during car rides.

Since starting this blog, I’ve had the pleasure of writing a number of articles on the benefits of extended rear-facing and the even greater pleasure of answering more than a thousand emails related to the best car seats or cars for children and families of a range of ages and sizes. Lately, two of the most frequent questions I’ve been fielding from parents involve a.) what the best car seats are for preschoolers and b.) whether or not preschoolers should still be rear-facing. If you’re in a hurry, the answer to the first question is convertible car seats like the Graco Extend2Fit, the Clek Fllo, and Diono Rainier, and the answer to the second question is yes, yes, yes. If you’ve got some time to learn more, let’s go into both of these answers with a bit more detail. And no, preschoolers shouldn’t be in booster seats.

What are the best car seats for preschoolers, or 3-, 4-, and 5-year olds?

extend2fit - 1    

The Graco Extend2Fit – Review Here, Buy Here.
The Clek Fllo – Review Here, Buy Here.
The Diono Rainier – Review Here, Buy Here.
The Clek Foonf – Review Here, Buy Here.

The best car seats for preschoolers (which typically include three, four, and five-year olds, are seats that allow them to sit rear-facing. In the US, rear-facing at these ages is very rare; studies have shown that only 1 out of 4 parents are still rear-facing by age 2, and the figures for rear-facing at 3, 4, and 5 are far, far lower. However, rear-facing is unequivocally safer at these ages for a variety of reasons. We’ll look at those in a moment. However, under the assumption that children who are 3, 4, or 5 should be rear-facing, the top seats on the market are the Graco Extend2Fit, Clek Fllo, Diono Rainier, and Clek Foonf, which all allow rear-facing until 50 pounds.

Of these seats, the Extend2Fit is my favorite all-around seat because it allows rear-facing until 50 pounds and up to 49″ in height, which means virtually all children who use it will be able to rear-face until they’re out of preschool. The Fllo and Foonf are my favorites for making 3 across car seat installations work due to their extraordinary narrow width of 17″; between the two seats, there isn’t much of a difference in functionality, and the Fllo is cheaper, so that’s almost always my primary recommendation between the two.

If your priority is to keep your child in the same seat for as long as possible, then you’ll want to look at the Rainier and the Pacifica (if you can find one, as it’s since been discontinued), as both allow extended harnessing, or extended time forward-facing once you’ve exceeded either the 50 pound rear-facing weight limits or the rear-facing height limits. Both car seats also include a booster mode that can potentially give your child additional years within the same seat. However, don’t get stuck looking too closely at the details between the aforementioned seats; any of them is an excellent choice for a preschooler. If you completely can’t decide, just get the Fllo if you don’t have much room in your back seat or the Extend2Fit if you do.

Should preschoolers forward-face or rear-face?

Preschoolers should always be rear-facing. With the range of seats currently on the market that allow children to rear-face until 50 pounds and well past 40″ in height, it’s no longer a question of not being able to find or afford seats that allow kids to travel much more safely by car than at any other time in recent history. Remember that even though rear-facing at 3, 4, and 5 is rare in the United States, it’s the default approach in the two countries that feature the lowest rates of child traffic deaths in the world: Sweden and Norway.

I recently wrote up a guide to Swedish car seat practices for Americans, and in it noted that despite the lack of any national laws requiring extended rear-facing, the idea of doing so had been so heavily infused into the culture that it was normal and natural to see parents rear-facing their children until 4 or 5 by default.

Parents don’t feel like outliers when rear-facing until 4-5 because everyone else is doing it; it isn’t known as “extended rear-facing” there, and parents don’t have to justify to fellow parents or spouses why they haven’t turned their car seats around. It’s just what you do.

With that kind of cultural acceptance of extended rear-facing in place, it’s no surprise that parents don’t feel a pressure to forward-face. While it’s difficult to bring that acceptance of extended rear-facing to the United States and Canada, there’s no question that the tide is changing as awareness grows across both countries about the benefits of keeping kids rear-facing. And regardless of what’s going on around you, as a parent, you are the ultimate authority on best practices for your child, and when you know that there’s no need to forward-face a preschooler once you have a seat that fits him or her, it’s just a question of making the choice to keep him or her as safe as possible for as long as possible.

Why should preschoolers always rear-face?

Finally, preschoolers should always rear-face because it’s safer for them to do so. The precise degree of safety is always up for debate and will vary from one study to another, but one of the most frequently cited figures is a fivefold difference in the risk of serious injury (e.g., brain damage) or death for a forward-facing child vs. a rear-facing child.  I’ve gone into detail about what exactly makes rear-facing safer than forward-facing in a number of articles, including one on the concept of the orphan seat and how it applies to children rear-facing in severe collisions. The excerpt below discusses how children’s proportions are different from those of adults, putting children at much greater risks of head and neck injury from trauma that would not necessarily lead to severe injury or death in adults.

Proportionally speaking, a child’s head is quite relatively compared to the rest of his or her body, and as a result, in a collision, the child’s neck must deal with that proportionally greater strain. To put it even more simply, if a 160-pound woman had the proportions of a baby, her head would weigh 40 pounds and her neck would be a lot more likely to break in much milder collisions than those normal adults could walk away from.

The science is clear; the facts have remained unchanged for decades. The Swedes started extended rear-facing more than 30 years ago, at least back to the 1980s, and we still haven’t caught up to them in terms of a cultural permeation of the importance of rear-facing. The American Association of Pediatrics recommendations are still far, far behind best practices by only recommending rear-facing until 2 or until seats are outgrown; this isn’t good enough.

The recommendation needs to state clearly that rear-facing is the best choice for children until at least 4 years of age, while continuing to emphasize rear-facing afterward until the height and weight limits of the seats are reached. To recommend anything else is to continue to neglect our responsibilities to promote best practices throughout society to the benefit of our youngest fellow human beings.

If you find my information on best practices in car and car seat safety helpful, you can do your shopping through this Amazon link. Canadians can  shop here for Canadian purchases. Have a question or want to discuss best practices? Join us in the forums!

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