Police ask for closer look at child seats

Published 9:15 am Thursday, September 25, 2008

In light of National Child Passenger Safety Week, the Albert Lea Police Department is encouraging area parents to educate themselves about the rules of proper child passenger safety seat use.

In Minnesota, three out of four child restraints are used incorrectly, according to a news release issued by the police department.

“Parents are required to speed up their routines because families’ schedules are so busy,” said Albert Lea police officer Tim Harves, who is a nationally certified Child Passenger Safety Technician. “But it is so important that parents take the time to ensure their children are seated and correctly retrained in a vehicle.”

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In the last five years, more than two-thirds of the children under age 10 who were killed on Minnesota’s roads were not in child restraints or were in a restraint that was used improperly, the release stated.

Harves, who is the only licensed officer in the county certified in child passenger safety, said through conducting monthly car-seat checkups, he’s “learned that many simple errors can be avoided if parents would just read their vehicle and safety manuals prior to installing the child seat.”

One problem with child passenger safety is that parents are unaware of the restraint steps a child should progress through as they grow: from rear-facing infant seats to forward-facing toddler seats to booster seats and lastly to seat belts, he said.

Infants belong rear facing at the proper incline, and they should remain rear facing until they have outgrown their seat’s weight limit, he said. Once children are forward facing, it is important to route their harness through the proper slots in the seat and to check the harness for tightness after the child is secured in the seat.

Out of all the different types of child restraints, the most commonly ignored restraint is the booster seat, which helps seat belts fit children properly, according to the release. Throughout the state, only 30 percent of 4-to-8-year-old children use boosters.

– Inappropriate type of child restraint for child’s height and weight

– Securing the restraint in the seat using both lower anchors and safety belt

– Improperly routing the safety belt through the restraint

– Securing a rear facing only infant seat in a vehicle forward facing

– Loose-fitting harness straps, sometimes not used at all

– Not using a child restraint at all

Boosters are recommended for children of that age group and for children under 4 feet 9 inches.

Harves said parents can tell if a booster is needed and a seat belt does not fit properly by seeing if the child wraps the shoulder belt behind them to avoid it rubbing against his or her neck.

A child should not be in a vehicle seat belt alone until they are 4 feet 9 inches and over age 8.

“Ultimately using an inappropriate child restraint for your child’s height and weight, or improperly securing the child restraint in your vehicle could lead to serious injury and even death,” Harves said.

Most people assume they know how to install a particular seat when they take it out of the box because they have had previous children or know someone else who has had the same seat, he said. But in reality there are often many installation errors.

These errors “can be avoided by taking 10 minutes and reading up on proper installation of the seat,” he said. “Every seat is different. There is no carbon copy set of installation instructions. Rapid advances in safety features also make the installation process ever-changing.”

Harves said he usually explains installation to parents by asking them, “What is holding your child in their seat?” and “What is holding your child’s seat into your vehicle?”

If parents have a restraint they would like help installing or would like a seat checked for proper usage, they can contact Harves to do a safety seat inspection by appointment.

Harves can be reached at 377-5671.

Parents can also visit www.buckleupkids.state.mn.us to find other child safety information.