Lifestyle

Buckle up - we love you

"If you feel safe because you always buckle your baby into a car seat, think again.In the past few months, Washington State Trooper Scott Wernecke has checked more than 200 child car seats in Whidbey Island vehicles.I've only seen one that was installed properly, Wernecke said last Saturday at a car seat check up clinic sponsored by the Island County Child Passenger Safety Team.Some of the mistakes were minor, he added, but the fact remains that almost every child car seat on the road could be doing its job better, and some are downright dangerous.Oak Harbor mom April Ortiz-Cedeno has three car seats in the back of her minivan - two big ones for her 3 1/2-year-old twins, Keyanna and Kiearra, and an infant seat for her five-month-old son, Jvon. She came to the car seat check up because she couldn't get them fastened down tightly enough, the most common problem parents have.Linda Wernecke, a volunteer child passenger safety technician who works with the security police department at Whidbey Island Naval Air Station, showed April how the van's seat belts worked and cinched the seats down by putting a knee into them as she pulled the seatbelts tight. If the car moves when you move the seat, it's tight enough, she said. The seat shouldn't move more than an inch. Linda also gave the seats a thorough going-over and found that the shoulder straps on the harnesses were twisted and set too low. The twisting had caused enough wear that the harnesses needed to be replaced after only a year of use. She offered to install them when April got the replacements.I think we should have done this a long time ago, April said. One thing I would never do is jeopardize my kids' safety. Ed Fry got a surprise, too, when the Werneckes checked out the four child seats in his minivan. Three were OK, except for being too loose, but one was on the recalled list and had passed its expiration date as well. Because the plastic used in car seats is subjected to extremely high temperatures, it can crack or fracture after a few years. For the last couple of years, new car seats have come with expiration dates printed on them, Linda said. If your seat is older than four years, you need to think about a new seat. If it is over six years, it may not be safe to use. I didn't know about the 4-6 year rule, Fry said. And I didn't know there was a recall.Parents need to be sure to fill in the warranty card and mail it back when they buy a new car seat, Linda said. That way they will be automatically notified if there is a recall. Recalls are not unusual. The list Linda was using is four pages long. I've removed scores of recalled or defective car seats. Scott Wernecke said.And because not all parents can afford to simply throw out a car seat and buy a new one, the Child Passenger Safety Team usually has new car seats available to give to low-income families. On Whidbey Island, Fire District #2 recently donated 40 seats, Scott said, and Whidbey General Hospital has donated seats, too. Others come from the Traffic Safety Commission and the Seat Belt Coalition.Old seats are destroyed so they can't be used again, Scott said. What else do parents need to know about car seat safety?* If the installation instructions aren't clear, Linda says, give her a call and she'll help you. She's undergone thorough training as a car seat technician.* Children who weigh more than 40 pounds but less than 60 pounds should be put in a booster seat that allows the seat belt to fit them properly, with the belt low across the hips and the strap across the chest, but not cutting into the neck. Some recommendations say children under 80 pounds should be in booster seats, as well. Never put a child in a shoulder/lap belt with the shoulder part under the arm or behind the back because this can cause injury or the child can even fly out of the belt in an accident. Backless booster seats should not raise a child's head above the back of the vehicle's seat. Both Fry and Ortiz-Cedeno said they were glad they stopped by to have their car seats checked.I can't believe those seats won't move now, Ortiz-Cedeno said. I know now how to put my car seats in correctly, Fry said. It kinda gives you goosebumps when they tell you just how wrong you are. -----------------Need a little help?* Find out if your car seat is correctly installed at the next free car seat check up clinic Friday, Oct. 6, from 2-4 p.m. in the Wal-Mart parking lot.* Free individual check ups are available at any time. Call Linda Wernecke at 257-6703 for an appointment. Wernecke and the Island County Child Passenger Safety Team also have a directory of approved child car seats and a list of recalled car seats available, along with car seat safety brochures. * Washington State Patrol troopers Julie Swanson or Scott Wernecke can answer car seat questions. Call 675-0710.* Or you can call the Safety Restraint Coalition at (425) 828-8975 or (800) BUCK-L-UP.------------------What's new?Most passenger vehicles manufactured after September, 1999, are equipped with top tether anchors for child car seats. All new cars, minivans and light trucks should now have the anchor points and most new car seats will have a top tether strap. The top tether is an adjustable strap attached to the back of a child safety seat which has a hook for securing it to a tether anchor on the rear shelf area of the vehicle. On minivans and station wagons, the tether anchor may be found on the rear floor of the vehicle or on the back of the rear seat.The tether is intended to limit movement of a child's head in a forward crash. Tethers can be used in older cars if anchor points are retro-fitted. Contact your vehicle's manufacturer for a tether anchor kit.By September 1, 2002, all new cars, minivans and light trucks will be required to have lower anchorage points between a vehicle's seat cushion and seat back, in two rear seating positions.For more information, call the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, (888) DASH-2-DOT. Online: www.nhtsa.dot.gov. "

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