More Than Meets the Eye with Child Safety Seats

CPS Techs assist in a seat check - Photo Mike Dowling

Child rearing today goes well beyond nurturing a child. New parents are confronted with a slew of responsibilities and areas that require new knowledge and expertise, one of which is safely transporting their precious cargo. Child safety seats are a relative newcomer to the scene having been first patented in 1962, but since that time the product has seen huge advances in use and technology. However those advances, compounded by the different size requirements and the array of vehicles those seats can go into, has created confusions and left many new parents unable to safely secure their children. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) says that every year, thousands of young children are killed or injured in crashes, mainly because 3 out of every 4 children in child safety seats are not properly secured, or even worse, not restrained at all.

To combat this problem local law enforcement came out in force Saturday, September 24 as part of Child Passenger Safety Week to offer free inspections of child safety seats and installation training. The event was held in the parking lot of Food Lion in Berryville. Child Passenger Safety (CPS) technicians from the Berryville Police, Clarke County Sheriff’s Office, Mt Weather and CCPS Transportation Department were on hand to participate. These professionals undergo a 40 hour training program and must have performed at least 4 installations, plus 6 hours of continuing education each year. Their goal is to ensure that everyone knows how to use their child safety seat and that they are able to correctly install it. Chief Neal White of the Berryville Police headed up the effort and said, “No one is going to intentionally endanger their child, they are going to do the best that they can but some people will purchase a seat and just put it in the car and think that’s all they need to do. They don’t realize that it has to be attached to the vehicle properly to do its job.”

Chief White operates an official FIT station for the Virginia Department of Health. The station can provide assistance year round for child safety seat information training and is listed as a resource on the Health Departments website. They can also provide a free child safety seat for those that cannot afford it.

Police had a three lane pop-up structure set up Saturday and assisted citizens as they drove through during the four hour event. School Resource Officer, Deputy Gary Lichliter, who is also a certified CPS technician, commented between car seat inspections, “There is a lot to it, more than meets the eye because you’re not just dealing with the seat itself, you’re also dealing with the seat belts. Seat belts in cars have been manufactured differently over the years and they adjust differently. The way the seat belt pulls-out and the exacter that holds it in place are different. Unless you are in the business you don’t pay attention to things like that and they can have a serious affect on the ability of a car seat to do its job.”

Beyond the ins and outs of installation there are also issues that must be monitored to ensure the car seat remains effective. Many consumers are unaware that car seats expire and that after a certain date the seat should not be used. Seats should also be disposed of if they have been involved in a serious accident because unseen damage may have made the seat unsafe.

Chief White said that the CPS technicians perform a range of checks in addition to fitting. “We have a packet of recalls and there are quite a few so every seat that comes in we check for expiration, we check to make sure all the harnesses are in good shape and not frayed, we check to make sure there’s no cuts in the plastic, and we check to make sure there are no recalls on the seat.”

When it comes to installing seats sometimes removing the seat and helping the parent install it themselves is the best way to teach. Deputy Lichliter added, “I ask them if they know how to install their seat properly, and if they do not know I either show them or I’ll take it out and let them reinstall it themselves and direct them as they put it in. It’s really the best way, to just let them install it so they know how to do it correctly.”

Technicians from across the county participated bringing a wide range of knowledge and experience. Looking over the event as everyone contributed to the the effort Chief White said, “We try to reach out to different people to make this a group effort because it’s more than just a single discipline. It’s a lot of people working together to keep kids safe. That’s paramount to me.”

CPS techs installed nine car seats during the event and officials said it was their most successful to date.

Individuals who need further assistance can contact the Berryville Police Department at 540-955-3863 and make an appointment for assistance at the police station.