Child Passenger Safety Week lasts from Sept. 20 to Sept. 26, and is a campaign dedicated to helping parents and caregivers make sure their children ride as safely as possible — every trip, every time.
Every day in America, millions of parents and caregivers travel with children in their vehicles. While some children are buckled in properly in the correct car seats for their ages and sizes, many are not — if they are buckled up at all.
Nearly half (46 percent) of car seats are misused, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).
Motor vehicle crashes are a leading killer of children, according to NHTSA, but many deaths are preventable for children with the proper use of car seats, booster seats and seatbelts.
“In 2017, 312 children under the age of 5 were saved because they were using car seats,” said Missy Smith, certified child passenger safety technician (CPST) with Fayette County Public Health (FCPH). “Car seats matter, and having the right car seat installed and used the right way is critical. Using car seats that are both age and size-appropriate is the best way to keep your children safe.”
FCPH is the local site for the Ohio Buckles Buckeyes (OBB) program.
OBB is a program through the Ohio Department of Health (ODH) that provides child safety seats and booster seats to eligible, low-income families in all Ohio counties. The goal is to increase the availability of child safety seats for families who could not otherwise afford them and to increase correct installation and proper use of child safety seats.
There are six certified child passenger safety technicians (CPSTs) in Fayette County. Four of those CPSTs are located at Fayette County Public Health while two are employed by the Fayette County Early Learning Center.
Part of the services they provide is answering questions about car seats over the phone and checking car seat installations by appointment.
“We are thankful for our community partners for child passenger safety,” Smith said, noting that United Way of Fayette County provides funding for additional seats, the Pregnancy Center provides car seat education with a video, and the Washington Fire Department provides the CPSTs with the use of their building in the winter in order to keep families safe and warm during the car seat clinics.
In order to keep up with the latest advancements in safety and technology, CPSTs participate in continuing education to re-certify every two years.
“Car seat manufacturers are continually adding features to improve the safety, comfort and convenience of car seats,” said Smith. “Because of this, I want to stress to parents and caregivers that it is important to read the car seat manual before installing a seat. Even if they have installed many car seats before, design changes and new recommendations are coming out at a record pace and what may be allowed for one seat is not allowed (or safe) for another.”
Following a recent virtual Child Passenger Safety conference, CPST Shawna Chace pointed out that some of the newer seats on the market are appealing but may be complicated to use. One newer booster seat folds up and fits into a bag, but it also has 243 different configurations.
“The best seat is always going to be the one that a parent will be able to use correctly,” she said. “So, before purchasing a seat, I would recommend that parents read reviews and think about whether they will be able to use it right every time.”
While the CPSTs agreed that they would never recommend or discourage parents from selecting any particular model of seat, the best advice they could give on choosing a seat would be to do some research ahead of time.
Liz Deis, OBB coordinator and CPST, said, “I would like to see parents make sure their child is in a car seat with a harness as long as possible.”
While parents often view the next step in car seats as a graduation or milestone, each “next step” (from rear-facing to forward-facing, from forward-facing to booster, etc.) is actually considered a demotion in terms of safety, according to Deis.
Children should remain rear-facing as long as possible, up to the top height or weight allowed by their particular seats. Once a child outgrows the rear-facing-only “infant” car seat, he/she should travel in a rear-facing “convertible” or all-in-one car seat.
When the child then outgrows the rear-facing size limits, he or she is ready to travel in a forward-facing car seat with a harness (always use the tether).
After outgrowing the forward-facing car seat with harness, children should be placed in booster seats until they’re the right size to use seat belts safely.
Children under 13 years of age should always sit in the back seat.
Deis advised parents and caregivers to get their car seats checked.
“Make sure they’re installed correctly, and that your kids are in the right seats and are buckled in correctly,” said Deis.
Deis further explained that NHTSA offers installation videos on their website and other valuable information. Parents can register their car seat or booster seat with the seat manufacturer to be notified in the event of a recall. They can also view more information on car seat safety and determine which seat their child should be in at www.nhtsa.gov/therightseat.
For more information, call 740-335-5111.
The information in this article was provided by Fayette County Public Health.