PLATTSBURGH - When it comes to child safety seats, if you think you've installed your child's correctly, you could be wrong.
Martha Passino LaBarge - a certified technician and pediatric nurse practitioner with Plattsburgh Pediatrics and the CVPH Medical Center's Alice T. Miner Center for Women and Children - was joined by members of Morrisonville EMS last Saturday to conduct a free child safety seat check at Bill McBride Chevrolet. In addition to replacing outdated and recalled safety seats, volunteers found 29 out of 31 child seats to be installed incorrectly.
"Either the child wasn't fit correctly to the seat, the seat wasn't in the vehicle correctly or the seat just didn't match up with the child or the vehicle," said Passino LaBarge.
That number, while it may sound staggering, is not uncommon, she said.
"The number of car seats installed incorrectly hasn't seemed to drop below 80 percent since we first started doing this," said Passino LaBarge, who has been conducting safety seat checks for the past 11 years. "We're still finding them, but I'm hoping that's because the people that haven't received the education are the ones coming to our checks."
"My thought is the people who have already come and received the information are riding around with their kids safely in the vehicle, so we don't see them again," she continued. "They don't come back to the check again."
Why are seats being installed incorrectly? Passino LaBarge said it's due largely to child safety seat installation instructions that can leave parents scratching their heads.
"It's like reading Greek. These instructions are unbelievable," she said. "I think parents try the best they can. It's just that they're so confusing."
The confusion of complex instructions is only worsened by even more confusion when it comes to understanding state laws regarding child safety seats, said Passino LaBarge.
"People look at the law and the law says a child up to the age of 8 needs to ride correctly in a vehicle with a safety seat. Because of that, many parents assume kids at age 4 would move to a booster seat. That's not the case," said Passino LaBarge. "It's based on the age and the size of the child. Two kids can weigh the same amount but be different sizes. We put them in a child seat safe for that child."
"We have kids who are 10 and 12 years old who still only weigh 50-60 pounds. So, they are more safe in a booster seat," she continued. "People look to the law to guide them, but the law is just a guide. It's about which seat is safest for the child."
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one study found 72 percent of nearly 3,500 observed car and booster seats were misused in a way that "could be expected to increase a child's risk of injury during a crash." The center's most recent figures, from 2005, showed 1,335 children ages 14 years and younger died as occupants in motor vehicle crashes, and approximately 184,000 were injured. Among children younger than age 5, in 2006, an estimated 425 lives were saved by the use of car and booster seats.
The center also credited child safety seats for reducing the risk of death in passenger cars by 71 percent for infants, and by 54 percent for children ages 1-4.
Those figures can continue to be greatly reduced if more people take advantage of child safety seat inspections and educational information, said Passino LaBarge.
"We've learned ways that make [safety seats] a little easier to install correctly and we teach these ways to parents and grandparents," she said. "We teach them so they can be safe when they travel. If the child is seated incorrectly, the child is in great risk of injury and death, no matter how long the trip is. After all, we know most accidents occur within the first five to 10 miles from your home."
Free child safety seat inspections are routinely held throughout New York State, with the next scheduled for Saturday, Aug. 7, at AAA Northway, 20 Booth Drive, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. The Saranac Volunteer Fire Department, 3277 State Route 3, will host an inspection from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on National Seat Check Saturday, Sept. 25.
However, those interested in having their child safety seat examined at any other time may contact the City of Plattsburgh Police Department, Clinton County Sheriff's Department or New York State Police and ask for a certified child passenger safety technician, said Passino LaBarge. Certified technicians are also available at CVPH Medical Center and Plattsburgh Pediatrics.