For kids’ sake: Parents learn importance of children’s safety seats
In her capacity as coordinator of the Safe Kids Allegheny County coalition, Kristen Urso often hears concerns about the relative comfort of children facing to the rear in car seats.
“His legs are going to be cramped,” a parent might say, “and he’s not going to be able to move.”
She provides simple reassurance.
Car seats and the law
Pennsylvania’s child passenger protection laws include:
• All drivers operating a passenger car, Class I and Class II truck, classic motor vehicle, antique motor vehicle or motor home must securely fasten infants and children under 8 age 8 in an approved child restraint/booster when the child is riding anywhere in the motor vehicle, including the cargo area. The car seat / booster seat may be in any seating position in the vehicle that is equipped with a seat belt.
• Drivers transporting children under 4 years of age are responsible to securely restrain children in an approved child passenger restraint system.
• A child younger than 2 must be secured in a rear-facing child passenger restraint system, to be used until the child outgrows the maximum weight and height limits designated by the car seat manufacturer.
• Drivers transporting children between ages 4 and 8 are responsible to securely restrain children in a seat belt system and an appropriately fitting child booster seat.
•An approved child passenger restraint system is labeled indicating that the restraint conforms to all applicable Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards.
Source: Pennsylvania Traffic Injury Prevention Project
“Do you realize he was here for nine months?” she’ll say with a motion to the abdomen. “And he was good. It looks awkward to an adult, to see a kid rear-facing, but they don’t know any better. They’re fine.”
Urso, whose group is led by Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC, was on hand Feb. 9 for the Peters Township Fire Department’s semi-annual car seat event, during which technicians are available to make sure seats are installed properly, and they also can alert parents about such issues as product recalls and changes in laws pertaining to the seats.
In August, for example, Pennsylvania started requiring all children younger than age 2 to be secured in a rear-facing child passenger restraint system. Previously, the requirement was until age 1.
“Children are more likely to get a head, neck or spine injury because they’re facing forward too soon,” Urso explained. “So there was a lot of advocacy that went in and said, parents need to know a lot. And they don’t always know that. So we’re going to get a law in there that tells them: This is for your kids’ safety.”
Peters Township Volunteer Fire Department is the only agency in Washington County that is certified by the state to install car seats. The recent public awareness event drew more than two dozen sets of parents from throughout the area, but trained department personnel are available on a daily basis to help ensure a seating situation is copacetic.
“We not only install the seat, but we check it,” David Holovack, a Peters Township firefighter and emergency medical technician, explained. “There are a lot of people with seats that are out of date and seats that have been recalled that we let them know about.”
The department’s staff includes several nationally certified child passenger safety technicians, who have completed 32 hours of initial training and continuing education.
“It’s complicated,” Holovack said. “You not only have to look at the instruction booklets for the car seats, you have to look at your cars’ manuals to make sure they can even fit car seats correctly.
“Car seats and cars are like people,” he added. “Some just don’t fit well.”
Kristen Cunic of Canonsburg wanted to make sure her 18-month-old son’s new toddler-sized seat fits well, so she returned to the fire department for the requisite expertise.
“When I had him, they put an infant seat in for me,” she said. “They were telling me that a large percentage of parents put them in incorrectly.”
Melissa Wojcuich, also of Canonsburg has two sons, ages 14 months and 3½, and she also was making a return visit.
“We always get our car seats put in here,” she explained, “because they know all the techniques to make sure that they’re installed correctly.
For more information about car seat installation, call the Peters Township Fire Department at 724-941-4176.