By Jill Keppeler
The Tonawanda News
— National Child Passenger Safety Week may have come to an end for 2012, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t options as far as making sure children’s car seats are installed safely and correctly.
State law requires children under age 4 to be restrained in a federally approved child safety seat, and older children must use a booster seat with a lap belt and shoulder harness. While the North Tonawanda Police Department suggests parents always read and follow the car seat instructions and vehicle owner’s manuals for proper use and installation, that doesn’t mean mistakes don’t creep in.
In fact, they do far more often than not.
“I would say ... probably 99 percent or so of the seats we have show up (at carseat checks) are installed incorrectly,” said Lt. Jim Daugherty of the NT Police Department. “That could mean one thing is wrong that we know of that the parent might not. For example, it might be in nice and tight, but the straps might be twisted.”
Tara Polilla, a child passenger safety technician with the Erie County Sheriff’s Office, echoed his words. She estimates the only about 99.8 percent of the car seats she sees are being used correctly.
“I only get maybe one or two (installed perfectly) a year out of about 150 that I see,” she said.
Polilla listed a variety of issues that are common, from products added to the car seat that shouldn’t be, to rear-facing car seats at the wrong angle for the age of the child, to seatbelts that aren’t locked, expired car seats and retainer clips that aren’t at the right level.
“The retainer clip is often lower,” she said. “But if it’s not airpit level, the baby can become a projectile.”
While many issues have easy fixes, the majority of seats still have further problems, ones that can have serious consequences in a crash ... and need can major reinstallation to be safe.
“Gross mistakes are probably 75 percent of the seats, where they’re not tight enough, the parents don’t really understand how to get the seat in properly,” Daugherty said.
Most often, he said, “The seatbelt of the vehicle is not tight enough. When the car seat is in the car, at the base, it should not be able to move more than one inch left or right where the seatbelt from the car connects. If it can, it is too loose.
“We want the seatbelt to be tight, less than one inch of movement. That’s generally what we see.”
If the seat isn’t tight enough, in an accident, that means that it ... and the child inside ... will continue forward in a crash when the vehicle stops. And the consequences can be serious: According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Adminstration, car crashes are the No. 1 killer of children 1 to 12 years old in the United States.
However, also according to the NHTSA, that fatality rate could be reduced by about half if the correct child safety seat were always used.
Daugherty said the next most common serious car seat mistake is switching children to forward-facing car seats before they really need them. Current recommendations are for children up to age 2, if possible, to remain in rear-facing car seats.
In a crash, he said, rear-facing children are “cradled in the car, whereas when they ‘re forward-facing they’re coming forward and their heads are coming forward.”
Polilla said that many parents also move their children out of booster seats too soon. Children actually need to meet a number of criteria before this is considered appropriate.
“That’s a huge issue, moving the child out of a booster seat too early,” she said.
“There’s a ton of stuff that we see.”
While there is a lot of information available online about car seat regulations and tips, those who want an expert opinion on the installation of their car seats and if they have appropriate seats can attend free car seat check events hosted by the NT police department, the sheriff’s department and others. Daugherty said that police will not only point out and fix errors, but teach parents and grandparents how to correctly install the seats themselves.
The next NT Police Department car seat check will take place Saturday at Kidz Express, 3571 Niagara Falls Blvd. Hours have yet to be determined. Those who cannot make it to one of the events can call 692-4119 to set up an appointment when a trained car seat safety technician can take a look at their car seats.
The Erie County Sheriff’s Department will sponsor a check from 10 a.m. to noon Oct. 6 at Clarence High School, 9625 Main St., Clarence. Those who cannot make it to a check event can call Polilla at 858-4979 to make an appointment.
Daugherty said that he’s seen several accidents in which the adults in the car have been injured, even airlifted to local hospitals ... while children who were riding in the vehicle, in properly installed car seats, emerged unscathed.
“So, really, that’s the bottom line,” he said.
ON THE NET
A car seat safety check will be presented by the North Tonawanda Police Department on Saturday at Kids Express, 3571 Niagara Falls Blvd. Specific hours have not been determined. Those who cannot make it to that event can call 692-4119 to set up a check.
Other agencies that provide safety checks are:
• City of Tonawanda Police Department. Call 692-2121.
• Niagara County Office of Traffic Safety, Lockport. Call 438-3190.
• Erie County Sheriff's Office. Call 858-4979. You can also visit www.nhtsa.gov/cps/cpsfitting/index.cfm for a searchable database.