The best way to keep your child safe in the car is to use the proper car seat in the proper way. As the Safety Seat Check Station Coordinator at the Virginia Department of Health, Bethany McCunn works to raise awareness about the importance of car seat safety. Here she shares information about keeping children safe in their car seats.
Q: How prevalent are motor vehicle injuries involving children in Virginia?
McCunn: Motor vehicle crashes are a leading cause of injuries in children ages one through 14, and they are injuries that, among younger children, are completely preventable by having the proper car safety seat, having it installed correctly, and using it on every car trip.
Q: What was the recent change in Virginia’s child safety seat laws?
McCunn: Children need to be rear-facing in their car seats until either the age of two or until they meet the height and weight requirements for being in a forward-facing car seat. This is meant to encourage parents and caregivers to keep children in a rear-facing seat for as long as possible, which also aligns with this recommendation from the American Academy of Pediatrics.
Q: What is the purpose of the Safety Seat Check Stations?
McCunn: The stations are a place where parents, caregivers and grandparents can have access to education and assistance with child safety seat, so they know they are using them in the correct manner. These check stations are located across the Commonwealth; we have over 70 sites participating. People can call, make an appointment and get that one-on-one help and education to ensure their car seat is installed snugly in their vehicle, that they are using the harness appropriately, that everything having to do with that car seat is approved and has been crash tested to make sure it is safe.
Q: What should parents look for when they go to a retail store to purchase a car seat for their baby?
McCunn: Choosing a child safety seat can be overwhelming, especially for new parents. You want the right size and you also want it to work with your vehicle. Just the assurance that all these new safety seats must meet crash requirements is reassuring because there is such a wide variety of them. But parents do need to look for the appropriate size for their child, particularly for the starting weight. If the baby is expected to be on the lower weight side, you will want to consider a seat that starts at the lowest weight. If you have a sturdier baby, you may want a safety seat that can go up to 40 to 50 pounds in the rear facing position.
Q: Do child safety seats wear out?
McCunn: All safety seats have an expiration date. Those safety seats that are designed to grow with a child from birth until booster seat and from there to when they are ready to move into the seat belt system have an expiration of around 10 years. A child safety seat that has been in a crash cannot be used again.
Q: Is it okay to use a hand me down child safety seat, or purchase one from a yard sale or a thrift store?
McCunn: It’s not a good idea to get a used safety seat for your baby or child. And there are several reasons for that. You really can’t be 100 percent sure of a secondhand car seat’s history, including whether it has been involved in a crash. A car seat that has been in a crash is no longer a usable safety seat. Also, you won’t know the expiration date of the car seat so you have no idea of whether the seat is actually still safe. And you will not know if a recall has been issued on a used car seat.
Q: Are there any tips for figuring out the instructions for installing a new car seat? They can be complicated.
McCunn: All safety seats come with an instruction manual, and one of the best things you can do is sit down and read the manual before trying to do the installation. It really does make the whole process easier. But manufacturers usually include an 800 number so you can call and talk with certified passenger safety technicians who really know the ins and outs of the seats. Another resource is to go to a safety seat check station and they will work with you to make sure your seat is properly installed.