You may remember that I recently received my Child Passenger Safety Technician certification. On Saturday, I participated in my first post-class car seat check event. It was an incredible experience, very eye-opening with regard to the need for child passenger safety education. (And – in some areas – the very basic need for car seats!)
The event took place in an area on the border of Detroit. It’s a really low income area, and the group sponsoring the seat check had grant money to provide low-cost seats. ($5 for boosters and $15 for harnessed seats). We knew that we’d be busy because of that. However, this being my first real seat check, I had no idea what to expect. For instance, I figured that a lot of people would be getting new seats to replace old ones. But I had no idea that every. single. child. that I worked with would need a new seat. Of the 15 or so kids I saw, only four arrived in any type of seat and those were either expired (did you know that car seats expire?), seriously outgrown, or both. The rest – including three 2-year-olds – arrived in seat belts (I assume they arrived belted – by the time I got to them, the parents had parked and the kids had – again, I assume – unbuckled). Only one single child arrived properly restrained, and that’s just because as a big 9-year-old, it turned out that he fit the seat belt well enough that he didn’t need a booster.
So, down to business. We got each child in a new seat. Most got backless boosters, a couple got high-back boosters, and two got harnessed seats. I installed each seat, taught each parent how to use and install the seat properly (and made them do it), and instructed each parent and child on how the belt should fit, how the child should sit in the seat, etc. Taught them a few tricks when possible, such as pulling the seatbelt all the way out to lock it to help “wiggleworms” sit still in their seats. Instructed them on a few other car safety issues such as buckling up boosters even when they’re unoccupied (can we say “projectile”?!). I was even able successfully manuver my first “3-across” situation with a harnessed seat and two low-back boosters. I wouldn’t want to be the mom who had to buckle those boosters because she really had to cram her hands down between the two seats to do it, but she did it and said she would be able (and willing) to do it every time they rode together.
Paperwork, paperwork, paperwork! “Scribing” is a pain and is my least favorite part of the seat check, but we must document everything, from details about the child (name/age/height/weight etc), where the child was seated when they arrived, the make/model/date of manufacturer of the seat, how the car seat was being used, any misuse must be noted (haven’t had a single seat ever that didn’t have some misuse), where the child is seated when we left, the make/model/date of manufacture of the replacement seat (if any) etc. It can be hard to keep up with the paperwork while trying to instruct the parent at the same time – especially when we don’t have enough techs to work in teams, as was the case on Saturday, since we only had 7 techs – but it’s crucial.
In the end, every child left MUCH safer than they were when they arrived. Were they as restrained as I, personally, would have liked? No, if I had my way every parent would be able to afford (and would be willing) to harness their kid until age 6. And I would never have chosen to put three 2.5-year-olds in backless boosters. But they were well over 40 lbs, the weight limit for standard harnessed seats, so the only other option was a higher weight harnessing seat, and the least expensive one starts at $89. But again, those 2.5-year-olds were safer than when they arrived, and they fit suprisingly well in the boosters. (Still what we call a “tough choice” situation, but better than seat belt only or – as I suspect – no restraint at all.)
This all bothered me less than I thought it would. The reason, I suspect, is that every single parent was there because they wanted to get their kids safer in the car. Were some of them there because they wanted a good deal on a new seat? Sure! But they wanted that seat to keep their child safe. I’m not gonna argue with that. We probably distributed about 100 new seats – we actually ran out of everything except for a few backless boosters.
(And the kicker? Every one of those parents with a kid 4 or older was willing to restrain their child past what Michigan law requires. Michigan law – which simply states that a child must use a child restraint until they turn four, after that they can legally use just seat belt, in any position of the car – really has nothing to do with what is safest for children.)
All in all, it was an excellent experience, and I plan to keep participating in seat check events in that area (as well as in areas where the need for actual seats isn’t so great).