Families

Here’s why most child car safety seats are installed incorrectly

Most child safety seats are not properly installed or may be out of date, which is why local fire departments offer technicians who can inspect the fit and use of them and educate parents on how to properly buckle up their children.
Most child safety seats are not properly installed or may be out of date, which is why local fire departments offer technicians who can inspect the fit and use of them and educate parents on how to properly buckle up their children. McClatchy

When Erica Littlewood trains people to become certified child passenger safety technicians, she teaches a weeklong, 32-hour class.

“When people finish, they often ask me for another day,” says Littlewood, who works out of the Burlington Fire Department as a fire and life safety educator. Among other duties, she coordinates 30 technicians in the child passenger safety program for Whatcom, Skagit, Island and San Juan counties.

When one of her students instructs car seat safety to the caregivers in one family, he or she can finish in less than an hour.

That’s because there are hundreds of different cars and hundreds of car seat types – and each family has a specific car make and model, and a specific car seat type, along with children who vary in age. For expectant parents, a doll is used.

“That’s why we ask caregivers to show up at an arranged location with their vehicle, their car seat and their children, so safety technicians can deal with the specific circumstance,” says Littlewood.

“Most car seats are installed incorrectly,” she says. “Our goal is for them to leave with a safer child.”

It’s a serious issue, Littlewood says, since motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death and injury for children in the United States.

The situation has been greatly exacerbated by distracted driving, mostly caused by the use of cell phones and other high-tech devices while a car is in motion.

“We don’t call them accidents,” says Littlefield, a 30-year resident of Bellingham. “We call them crashes because almost all of them are avoidable. People have the responsibility and the ability to prevent crashes.”

Don’t shop at garage sales

Child passenger safety technicians are responsible for renewing their certification every two years and child safety seats should be checked regularly.

Car seats expire within six to 10 years with regard to their capacity to safeguard children, Littlefield says. In other words, don’t look for them at a garage sale. The retail cost can run from $60 to $400, she says.

The curriculum used to teach child passenger safety technicians comes from the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration.

The modern car seat concept debuted in the 1970s. Many of today’s grandparents rarely if ever were constrained by one.

But new car seats are considerably more complex than those early models, with a variety of restraints and features. And never put one in the front seat of a vehicle.

“You can install a car seat with a seat belt or a lower-anchor, but not with both,” Littlewood says.

“Parents should absolutely read the manuals that come with car seats,” she says.

To find a local child passenger safety technician, go to SafeKids.org, and click on “car seat events.” A good web page for detailed information is the “Parents and Caregivers” link at Safercar.gov.

For people who want to be sure a specific type of car seat works if that seat can not be returned to the retailer, Littlewood says “We recommend that people borrow a seat to see if it fits in their vehicle.”

Washington state laws

Vehicle occupants of any age and size must be restrained properly. The driver is held responsible for properly securing all passengers under the age of 16.

Children under age 13 must ride in the back seat, whenever practical to do so.

Children must ride in an appropriate car safety seat until they reach age 8 or are 4 feet, 9 inches tall, whichever comes first. Car safety seats (car seats or booster seats) must be used according to the manufacturer’s instructions.

Children who have reached both age 8 and 4 feet, 9 inches tall made ride in an adult seat belt if it fits properly.

Car seat best practices

Step 1: Rear-facing car seat (birth to age 2).

Step 2: Forward-facing car seat (age 2-up).

Step 3: Booster seat (up to 4 feet 9 inches, 8-12 years old).

Step 4: Lap-and-shoulder seat belt in the back seat.

Step 5: Lap-and-shoulder seat belt in the front seat (age 13-up).

SOURCE: Mary Bridge Car Seat Help Line (253-403-1417), part of Mary Bridge Children’s Hospital and Health Center

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