Seventy to 90 percent of child safety seats are installed incorrectly, but local technicians are working to change that statistic.
On Saturday, three child passenger safety technicians offered a free clinic at the Baker City Fire Department. Their goal was to inspect car seats and boosters for recalls and expiration dates, as well as proper installation in the vehicle.
“Typically, there’s always something wrong with it,” said Phoebe Wachtel, car seat technician and administrative assistant at the Baker City Police Department.
On one seat she checked, she noted that the attachments clipped onto the LATCH anchors were installed in the wrong direction. These should be clipped down over the top of the anchor, not up from the bottom.
LATCH stands for Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children. These are found in newer vehicles, in the crease of the back seat.
Another issue is the limit of the LATCH system. After the combined weight of the child and car seat reaches 65 pounds, the seat needs to be secured with the vehicle’s seat belt, not the LATCH anchors.
However, even when the weight requires the seat belt system, Wachtel said parents should still secure the seat using the top tether, which secures to a clip on the back of the back seat.
The technicians know car seats can be tricky to install. To be certified, they are required to install all different types of seats in a variety of vehicles. Every two years they must complete six credit hours, participate in one community event, and be evaluated on the installation of each type of seat (rear-facing only, rear-facing convertible, forward-facing with harness, booster, and installation using LATCH).
“Every vehicle is different, and every seat,” said Lynn Scarfo, a technician who works as an RN in the birth center at St. Alphonsus Medical Center in Baker City.
Every car seat comes with a manual detailing the proper installation and vehicle manuals include instructions as well.
There are also Oregon laws to consider:
• As of May 2017, infants must ride rear-facing until they reach the age of 2 regardless of height or weight.
• Child passengers must be restrained in child safety seats until they weigh 40 pounds or reach the upper weight limit for the car seat.
• Children over 40 pounds must use a child seat with harness or a booster until they are 4 feet, 9 inches tall or 8 years old, as long as the adult seat belt fits correctly.
“It depends on the kid and the car,” Wachtel said.
For a proper fit, the lap belt must lie snugly across the upper thighs, not the stomach, and the shoulder belt should lie snug across the shoulder and chest- and not cross the neck or face.
Although there is not a law regarding how long children should ride in the back seat, the national best practice recommendation is through age 12.
Another common issue with seats is that caregivers will add cushioning around the child. This is only OK if the piece comes with the car seat, which means it has been tested for safety in crash scenarios.
“Some manufacturers have approved items you can purchase,” said Billie Jo Deal, Region 5 transportation safety coordinator with ODOT.
Deal is a seat technician, and administers ODOT’s child passenger safety grants which help agencies provide car seats for low-income families.
Although not part of a law, the technicians warn against other additions near the car seat, such as mirrors that allow the driver to see a child in the rearview mirror.
The problem is that in the case of a collision, anything in the vehicle can become a projectile. Deal said even light items can be dangerous when force comes into play, which is calculated by multiplying weight and speed.
Car seats and boosters do expire, usually within six to 10 years of the manufacture date.
“The expiration date will be stamped on the plastic,” Deal said.
Some brands also carry a warning of “Do not use after...” with the date of expiration.
Car seat checks
In addition to the free clinics, technicians are available to check seats by appointment. They especially encourage expectant parents to schedule a visit to ensure a proper seat installation.
For an appointment, call W achtel at 541-524-2014, or Scarfo at 541-524-7747.