Does it really take three days of training to learn to install a child car seat?
It does if you’re going to be a certified child passenger safety technician, which is what county extension agent Renae Riedy is.
Parents and others who transport children in vehicles have a dizzying array of rear-facing, front-facing, and booster seats to choose from, each with its own specific weight and height limitations and installation instructions.
While Kansas law requires children to be in some sort of child safety seat until they are 8 years old or weigh 80 pounds, Riedy said older children may need booster seats, too.
“It’s about how they fit in the vehicle seat,” she said. “Is that seat belt really protecting them? If their feet are dangling and the seat belt is across their belly, that’s not good.”
A seat belt should fit across a child’s upper thighs, and a shoulder belt should fit across a shoulder and not the neck or face. Improperly-fitted seat belts can cause injuries in an accident.
“If a seat belt doesn’t fit properly, then a booster seat can raise a child up so that it will,” Riedy said.
National Highway Traffic Safety Administration data indicate just one out of four child safety seats is installed correctly. Riedy said that with her training and technical materials, she can help parents be sure their children’s seats are installed right.
Whenever possible, car seats should be installed in the center of the back seat to provide maximum safety in the event of a collision, Riedy said.
“Not every seat fits well in every vehicle,” she said. “We find there’s a bump sometimes.”
Parents are often tempted to install infant seats facing forward so that they can see their baby more easily, but Riedy said the seats are designed to be installed facing the rear.
“For children overall, the recommendation is to keep them rear-facing for two years,” she said. “Some people install mirrors on the back window so the child can see you.”
Riedy said it’s a good idea to sit in back with the child when possible.
The time to change to a forward-facing seat with a five-point harness depends on which infant seat the child has been using. Each infant seat has height and weight limits specified by the manufacturer, Riedy said, and those limits should determine when a child is ready for a new seat.
Most vehicles from 2002 onward are equipped with the Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children (LATCH) restraint system, a more secure system for installing car seats, Riedy said. Most car seats are now designed to use the system.
Car seats should be used any time a child is in a car, Riedy said, pointing out over half of all accidents occur within 5 miles of home. Adults who believe they can safely hold a child on their lap or restrain them with their arm while the child is seated beside them are dangerously mistaken, Riedy said.
“A 30-pound child in an accident at 30 mph needs 900 pounds of restraining force,” she said.
Proper fitting, installation, and use of child safety seats can prevent catastrophic injuries in an accident, Riedy said.
“What I tell parents now, because I’ve had the opportunity to see videos about what can happen when it isn’t done right, is that a broken leg is better than a broken neck,” she said.
Riedy’s work with child safety seats is a collaborative venture with the health department’s SAFE Kids program. She is available by appointment by calling (620) 382-2325.