Car-seat inspection could save a child’s life, planners say

ORIGINALLY WRITTEN CYNTHIA MARTENS
National Child Passenger Safety Week begins Sunday, Feb. 10 and lasts through Feb. 16, but its message lasts a lifetime-a child’s lifetime, if they are riding properly in a car seat.

“Statistics show that four out of five car seats are used wrong,” said Sondra Mayfield with the Kansas Safe Kids Coalition of Marion County.

The coalition, in partnership with Irv Schroeder County Motors and local law enforcement officers, will join forces for a car-seat check lane from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., Saturday, Feb. 9, at the Irv Schroeder dealership at 416 S. Date.

Parents and guardians are asked to bring their car seats through the check lane on the scheduled day to be inspected.

The goal is to “educate families about buckling up children on every ride,” Mayfield said.

The local event is part of a nationwide effort, planned around Valentine’s Day by communities and various organizations, to host local events and activities to promote child-passenger safety.

“When we have people go through our check point, and they have unsafe car seats or they’re too old or re-called, we take that car seat and destroy it and furnish them with a brand new one at no charge,” Mayfield said.

“The last small check lane we did, we checked five car seats and took away two because they were unsafe.”

But what if the car seat checks out as safe?

The first bonus is knowing that a child is secure in the vehicle.

The second bonus is an incentive to put the child in the proper seat when the old one is outgrown.

“If the car seat is OK, we will have vouchers for free booster seats if the child needs to go to the next size up,” Mayfield said. “And the vouchers are also for $22.99 off any other booster seat they want to purchase at Toys R Us.”

The free car seats and vouchers are given on an as-needed basis, Mayfield said.

In addition to the car seat inspection and vouchers, local law enforcement officers will offer free finger printing.

“It’s called the Ident-A-Kid program,” said Dan Kinning, Hillsboro police chief. “Basically it’s a service provided by the Hillsboro Police Department and the Kansas Bureau of Investigation. We buy the cards from KBI, and they give us a big discount.”

Kinning and one other officer will be on hand that day to take prints of both hands of any children whose parents request the service. The officers will also fill out information on the KBI cards.

The procedure takes about one minute, but Kinning said the process can be a little more difficult with infants.

“Infants are really tough because they tend to ball their hands up,” he said. “It’s almost impossible to roll their fingers. The best we can do is try to straighten their hands and have a whole print of the whole hand. But we’re still willing to try and do that.”

To protect the privacy of the information, Kinning gives the completed cards to the parents.

“A lot of concern in the past was do we retain the cards or have a finger print record of their child, and we don’t,” Kinning said. “It goes to no other agency. It goes right back to the parents.”

Kinning said he encourages parents to participate in the program, which is in place in case the child is lost or missing and needs to be identified.

The program has been around during Kinning’s 18-year career in law enforcement, and he said he has never had to use one of the Ident-A-Kid cards.

“And I hope I go the rest of my career without doing that,” he said.

An educational brochure, provided by the National Safe Kids Campaign and available to the public, details the following important information about the appropriate seat for a child’s weight:

—–Infants, until at least 1 year old and at least 20 pounds, should be in rear-facing car seats;

n Toddlers, over 1 year old and between 20 and 40 pounds, can be in forward-facing car seats;

n Children, between 40 and about 60 to 80 pounds, usually 4 to 8 years old, should be in booster seats. Children this size are too small to fit correctly in adult safety belts alone.

If the child is over 40 pounds and the car is equipped with lap belts in the back seat, the parent may choose one of the following options:

–?Buy a special car seat that is for children who weigh more than 40 pounds;

— Contact an auto dealership about installing shoulder belts;

— Correctly restrain the child in a car booster seat in the front seat using a lap/shoulder belt and move the vehicle seat as far back as possible.

Usually children over 80 pounds and 8 years old can fit correctly in lap/shoulder belts.

“One of our goals is to teach parents how to put car seats in right,” Mayfield said.

Mayfield cautions parents against putting infants in the front seat of a vehicle with a passenger air bag unless they have a manual cut-off switch, and the switch is turned off.

Infants must ride in the back seat facing the rear of the vehicle. This offers the best protection for the infant’s neck.

If it is absolutely necessary for a child to ride in the front seat with a passenger air bag, the following precautions should be observed:

— Never put a rear-facing infant-less than 1 year old or under 20 pounds-in the front seat;

— Secure the child properly in the correct restraint;

— Move the front seat as far back from the dashboard as possible;

— Never allow the child to lean toward the dashboard.

Each year, more than 1,700 children die and an additional 265,000 are injured as occupants of motor vehicles. Among children who were killed in motor vehicle accidents in 2000, 56 percent were completely unrestrained.

“Our goal in Marion County is to have 100 percent of our children safely restrained in motor vehicles,” Mayfield said. “We encourage all parents to come by and let us check their car seats.”

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