The Alachua County Department of Health is holding two events in honor of National Child Passenger Safety Week, to teach the proper use and installation of car seats for children.
According to Krista Ott of the Gainesville Fire Rescue, nationally, eight out of every ten car seats are installed incorrectly and are putting the occupant’s life at risk. Alachua County is below the national average (and one of the leading counties in the state of Florida) which she attributes to the county’s proactive education, resulting in closer to 75 percent of car seats installed incorrectly.
When parents sign up for an appointment, the certified technicians there not only install the car seats correctly, but also teach the parents while they are doing it. Their purpose is to show them how to install it, and why it’s done a certain way, so that the parents will know how to do it in the future.
“We usually have to correct certain issues that we see,” said Jamie Lambert, a certified technician and the Human Services Program Manager for the Florida Department of Health. “A lot of times parents do a handful of things correctly, but there’s just a lot that you wouldn’t think about. Airbag [placement] in the car, forward facing versus rear facing, seatbelt versus tether, installation and expiration.”
While these safety programs, held the third Tuesday of every month by the Alachua County Department of Health, are helping to educate the public here, Moyra Willis, the Occupant Protection Program Planner for the State of Florida, says that often times the problem goes beyond just education.
“Trying to get parents to do what’s safe for the kids rather than what’s convenient for them is one of the hardest things these days,” Willis said.
“We always laugh and ask parents with newborns, you know, ‘Why did you choose this seat? Because it doesn’t fit your car.’ and the most common excuse we get, or the reason is, ‘Because it matched my color scheme.’”
Willis says that children should be kept in rear-facing car seats, specifically in a five-point harness, for as long as possible. A rear-facing seat in the middle of a vehicle is the safest location a person can be in, and so while rear-facing seats are typically used through the second year of life in the U.S., if a child can fit the weight requirements for longer, they should remain in it.
Another problem that child passenger safety faces is the incidence of children being forgotten in cars. Willis spoke of a retainer clip for car seats that will sing to the driver when the car is turned on and turned off if the child is still secured in the seat. Health Departments have even recommended parents leave their cell phone in the back seat with their child in order to help remind parents to retrieve them.
To help combat these problems, several of the technicians have highly recommended the certification class, not only for parents, but also for the public, to increase education of the subject as a whole.
The three day class will teach participants everything about how to properly install a car seat, going as far as to teach about how all of the various kinds of seats differ as well as how they work in a variety of cars.
The certification is 85 dollars and lasts for two years, although scholarships can be applied for on the Occupant Protection Resource Center website to cover the expense.
“We welcome anyone that gets certified,” said Diana Duque, Community Program Manager for the Alachua County Department of Health. “It’ll help us get more education out in the community, and learn more, and collaborate.”