As Chester County residents get out and about in the warmer weather, the best seat in the house—or in the car—for children is a car seat that fits the child and the vehicle and that is installed correctly.
The Chester County Sheriff’s Office (CCSO) offers free inspections of children’s car seats by appointment to keep children safe. Inspections take place at the parking garage across from the Chester County Justice Center on Market Street in West Chester. To make an appointment, email [email protected] or call (610) 344-6139.
According to safekids.org, road injuries are the leading cause of preventable deaths and injuries to children in the United States. Correctly used, child safety seats can reduce the risk of death by as much as 71 percent. More than half of car seats are not used or installed correctly.
Sgt. Matthew Tocydlowski and Deputy Suzanne Campos, certified technicians, conduct the inspections. They have approximately 25 years of experience installing and inspecting car seats.
The half-hour multi-step inspection undertaken by Sgt. Tocydlowski and Deputy Campos includes taking basic information about the car seat, vehicle, and age and weight of the child to determine their compatibility for safety. They inspect the owner’s safety seat for visible damage and proper installation. Their review covers demonstrating installation, observing the adult’s installation, and discussion of how the seat works, correct seat position in the vehicle, proper harness installation, and additional information.
Daniel Sherry Jr., a Philadelphia personal injury attorney and partner at Eisenberg, Rothweiler, Winkler, Eisenberg & Jeck, emphasized the importance of parents using the right car seat and making sure it’s properly installed.
“For safety reasons, it is critically important for infants to be rear-facing insofar as car seats and that they remain rear-facing for as long as possible with a seat that has a relatively high seat back,” said Sherry, who is also the father of three young children. “Most convertible seats (meaning they can be installed rear-facing for infants and, later on, re-installed in a front-facing manner) have a relatively high seatback. This seatback, in frontal collisions, provides significant protection for infants because their malleable bodies load into the cushion-coveted seat back in a safer manner than merely loading into a series of nylon straps.”
“Convertible seats, due to their high backs are safer than the very common rear-facing infant seats that detach from bases and are used as infant carriers,” he added. “Those detachable infant seats have lower seatbacks and therefore provide far less protection in frontal crash events.”
And, “the proper size seat helps ensure that the strap geometry will be appropriate for the infant or child,” Sherry said. He warned parents to “make sure to tighten the straps so that they are snug every time the infant or child is placed into the seat,” even if they are wearing bulky clothes or blankets.
But none of this will matter if the car seat is “not properly anchored to the vehicle” and every make and model is different. Some older models do not have a LATCH system so “a well-trained police officer, who knows how to properly install the seat (either using LATCH or a traditional seatbelt routed through the child seat), should be sought out, and that is especially true prior to the child being brought home from the hospital.”
“Here are four rules,” Sherry said, “Get a convertible seat. Have law enforcement install it if at all possible. Adjust the straps so that they are as snug as possible for each and every trip. Keep the child rear-facing as long as possible.”
Car seat inspections aren’t just for first-time parents, according to the CCSO. Officers recommend that anyone who will transport a child in a car–grandparents, other family members, babysitters, or child care providers—is welcome to schedule an appointment.
The CCSO cannot recommend brands or models, but buyers can be aware that all car seats sold in the United States must meet safety standards.
“The best car seat is one that is appropriate for the child’s age and weight, fits the vehicle and is installed and used correctly,” said Chester County Sheriff Fredda Maddox.
“The free inspections are invaluable for ensuring children’s safety before a season of increased travel and summer vacations,” Maddox continued. “Safety and protection are our goals.”