September is Child Passenger Safety Awareness Month, and Huntsville Hospital for Women & Children is going the extra mile to make children’s car seat safety a top priority.
Toyota Motor Manufacturing Alabama, a generous partner of Huntsville Hospital Foundation, recently connected Huntsville Hospital with the national Buckle Up for Life program to help secure grant opportunities and annual car seat donations. More importantly, it is helping provide more exposure to Huntsville Hospital for Women & Children’s car seat fitting program.
“Our fitting station provides education and hands-on car seat checks for anyone in the community to make sure their car seats are safely installed for maximum protection for their children,” said Elizabeth Sanders, vice president of Huntsville Hospital for Women & Children.
Buckle Up for Life
An appointment with a car seat fitting expert at the hospital only takes about 20 minutes and leads to life-saving information and hands-on practice for safely installing a car seat. The average appointment includes:
- Installation of the car seat and education on how to install
- Correct harness height and fitting recommendations
- Education on future steps for the child and the specific child seat installed, such as when to move to forward facing or to a booster seat or how to rethread or adjust harness height and tightness
- Check for recalls on seats brought to the appointment
Huntsville Hospital for Women & Children provides free car seats through the Alabama State Department of Health for mothers who qualify for government assistance. Buckle Up for Life also gave 50 new car seats to the hospital, to distribute at the hospital’s discretion. Hospital administrators hope to provide them to mothers who are not eligible for government assistance, but clearly need the financial burden of obtaining a car seat reduced.
“As a partner hospital, we hope to receive donated car seats annually as they are available for distribution from Buckle Up for Life,” said Sanders.
Keeping kids safe
According to the Alabama Department of Public Health, three out of four car seats in the U.S. are installed incorrectly. In Alabama, motor vehicle crashes are the single largest category of accidental child deaths.
Child safety seats are extremely effective when correctly installed and used in motor vehicles, decreasing the risk of death by 71% for infants (birth to one year) and 54% for children ages 1-4. They also reduce the need for hospitalization by 69% for children ages 4 and under.
If the statistics related to child death and serious injury due to improperly restraining young passengers aren’t enough to persuade some drivers, Lt. Stephen Anderson of the Huntsville Police Department said the fines, court costs and points against their licenses should make people think twice.
All drivers and passengers in moving vehicles, including pickup trucks, are required to wear seat belts, but Alabama law specifically requires all children 14 and younger to be properly restrained. The difference, explained Anderson, is that unrestrained adults are simply fined $25. However, such violations for children can be fined and assessed court costs, which usually total more than $175 per violation.
“The driver can get a ticket for every unrestrained child in the car, so if you have multiple kids unbuckled, that is multiple violations,” Anderson said.
Law enforcement officers have seen it all when it comes to unrestrained or improperly restrained children in vehicles, and many times they see firsthand the deadly consequences.
“I’ve seen passengers – and even drivers – with kids in their laps, and you just think, ‘What if that air bag deploys?’” Anderson said. “It’s going to cause significant injury to the child sitting in the lap of the driver. We’ve seen it all.”
In addition to general misconceptions about age and weight requirements for children in car and booster seats, Sanders listed a few other common issues about child car safety:
- You do not need to use the seatbelt and LATCH system together when installing a car seat. They are equally safe when used correctly, and only one system should be used at a time.
- Car seat fitting technicians at Huntsville Hospital have found many people either don’t lock the seatbelt or the LATCH is too loose. They provide instruction on how to correct this issue.
- Whether you are using the seatbelt or the LATCH to secure the car seat, the top tether should be used when the car seat is in the forward position.
- Drivers should not turn a baby’s car seat to forward facing too soon. The best practice is to remain rear facing until the child reaches the maximum height or weight for the seat as defined by the manufacturer.
Car seat technicians are available at Huntsville Hospital for Women & Children on Mondays at 11 a.m. and every other Saturday. Appointments are free to the public. To schedule an appointment, call 256-265-7296.