Driving is a way of life in Northern Michigan: communities are spread out and public transportation is limited. Your children will probably spend a lot of time in a car. No matter how careful you are on the road, accidents happen and it is important to protect your smallest passengers with a properly installed car seat or booster.
Michigan’s Child Passenger Safety Law states that children under age 4 must ride in a car seat in the back seat. If all back seats are occupied by kids under age 4, then a child younger than 4 may ride in the front seat, in a rear-facing seat with the airbag off. Children need to be in a car seat or on a booster seat until age 8, or until they have reached the height requirement, which is 4 feet 9 inches tall.
Jennifer Ritter works with the Grand Traverse Metro Fire Department, where she is Fire & Life Safety Educator and a Child Passenger Safety Technician and Instructor. “Traffic crashes are the leading cause of unintentional deaths to children in the United States,” she says. “Correctly used, child safety seats can reduce the risk of death by as much as 71 percent.” Unfortunately, more than seventy percent of car seats are not installed properly.
Common Car Seat Mistakes:
• Not tightening harness straps enough – they should fit snugly to a child’s body
• The car seat should not move from side to side more than an inch.
• Ensure a tight fit with the seat belt that attaches the car seat to your car.
• The chest clip needs to be up near a child’s armpits.
• Wait until your child outgrows the weight limit of a seat before moving on to the next size.
Grand Traverse Metro Fire Dept. also advises that children ride in the back seat until age 13, as the force of an air bag may be too strong for children to take.
When you are shopping for a car seat, you may be tempted to buy or accept a used one from a friend or relative. For many baby items, buying used is a great way to save money but you may want to think twice about installing a used car seat. Never use a car seat that has been involved in an accident, even if it is not visibly damaged. If you cannot confirm that it has never been in an accident, don’t buy it. Also, keep in mind that car seats have an expiration date, often around six years after manufacture, because the plastic in car seats will degrade and weaken over time. Even if know a seat has a clean accident history, check the labels for the manufacture and expiration dates. You will also want to check to ensure that the seat has not been recalled.
This is a lot to remember but fortunately, most communities have local experts who can help ensure you are taking the right steps to protect your most precious cargo. In Traverse City, Jennifer Ritter oversees car seat checks regularly, which is a free service at the Grand Traverse Metro Fire Dept. These are held on the fourth Friday of every month from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. The Grand Traverse Sheriff’s Office also offers the service, but on the second Friday of every month, at the same times. Certified Child Passenger Safety Technicians will check car seat for proper installation, recalls and other safety concerns. Check your local police and fire departments to see what is offered near you.
Lastly, one of the most important things you can do as a parent is to be a great role model: always buckle up yourself. This is a life-saving lesson that can last long after your child outgrows his or her car seat.