Earlier this week, the Stevens County Sheriff's Office posted a heartbreaking story about a 23-year-old woman killed in a car crash. The Sheriff's Office noted that in the backseat at the time of the crash was a 6-month-old baby in a car seat. The baby survived the crash thanks to a properly secured rear-facing car seat.
It is absolutely worth noting that an on-duty UPS driver came upon the crash and was able to cut the child out of the car and take them to a location that had cell service so medical helicopter could transport the child to Spokane for precautionary treatment. The child was expected to be released from the hospital. Had that baby not been properly secure, the crash could've become even more tragic than it already was.
My heart goes out to that family for their loss, that young baby, and the UPS driver who heroically stepped in.
The story hits close to home for me. I have a 3-year-old boy and 9-month-old twin boys. I drive them all around regularly in my pickup and up until I read that tragic story out of Stevens County, believed that I had their car seats installed correctly.
The weeks prior to the birth of a child are hectic, as any parent can tell you. There's a lot to do, including installing car seats so that you're ready to take your new bundle (or bundles, in my case) of joy home. And I read the manuals, I installed the seats, but did I do it correctly? The safety of my children is paramount and I wanted to know if I had done all I could by installing their car seats correctly.
For the answer, I turned to the Spokane Police Department's resident car seat safety expert: Sgt. Teresa Fuller.
As a Certified Car Seat Technician, Sgt. Fuller has been checking car seats for parents and grandparents in the Spokane area for roughly 16 years. She became involved in car seat safety after taking a course early in her career and finding her own son's seat wasn't properly installed.
"Had we been in a significant enough crash, it would've caused a lot of injury to him, maybe even killed him," Sgt. Fuller told me on Friday. "That to me was a big eye opener. if I'm getting it wrong as a police officer and a relatively well educated person, how many other parents are getting it wrong?"
The answer to that question shocked me. Sgt. Fuller said 80-90 percent of car seats checked in Spokane are installed incorrectly for "catastrophic misuse".
I like to fancy myself smarter than your average bear, but bears don't know how to properly install car seats and as it turns out, I don't either.
"I think I have them installed correctly, but I feel like you're about to pick it apart" I timidly told Sgt. Fuller.
"We'll see," she chuckled.
I asked Sgt. Fuller to check my three car seats in my pickup truck, the same seats I rely on to keep my most precious cargo safe, and immediately there was a problem.
While installing my 3-year-old's front-facing car seat, I thought I could use the attached anchors and the seat belt. Double up on safety, right?
"A lot of parents think this way," Sgt. Fuller said. "They think, 'Well, if I got two options, two is better than one.' But in this case, it's like wearing contacts and glasses at the same time. You don't want both because they can interfere with each other."
That was just the first problem Sgt. Fuller found among many. A top tether not anchored, two lower anchors hooked to one position, anchors used when seat belts were preferred. I was shocked at just how improperly I had messed up installing my kids' car seats.
"So I get an F?" I asked at the end of her inspection.
"You don't get an F, you get an A for effort," she kindly replied. "That's why we're here. That's why we have car seat technicians that go through classes to help parents understand these ins and outs."
The classes car seat technicians like Sgt. Fuller go through are pretty intense. They spend 40 hours learning how to make sure a car seat, no matter the style or brand, can be properly installed while keeping your children safe.
Every car seat is different, and depending on their age, every child has different requirements, from infants to teenagers, as Washington's car seat laws changed back in January.
- Children up to age 2 must be properly secured in a rear-facing car seat.
- Children ages 2-4 years must ride in a car seat with a harness (rear or forward facing).
- Children 4 and older must ride in a car or booster seat until they are 4'9" tall.
- Children over 4'9" must be secured by a properly fitted seat belt (typically starting at 8-12 years old).
- Children up to the age of 13 must ride in the back seat when practical to do so.
At the end of my inspection, as gut-wrenching as it was to find out I had been transporting my children around in a less-than absolutely safe manner, I shouldn't feel bad, and you shouldn't either. It can honestly be confusing. Sgt. Fuller says, while some are getting better, most of the manuals for children's car seats are written by lawyers to protect the company.
However, I do feel relief knowing that my kids' car seats are now properly secure in the back of my pickup and I urge all parents out there to take the pro-active step of getting your car seats checked by a certified technician. You can find additional information at Facebook
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