Island first responders offer car seat checks today

A properly positioned car seat.
Photo courtesy of car-seat.org

A properly positioned car seat.

Children’s car seat safety checks and installations by Island police officers, fire fighters, and EMTs will be available on Saturday, May 4, from 10 am to 2 pm. The Tisbury Police Department is hosting the free event in the Water Street parking lot near the station to help parents make sure their children’s car seats are installed properly and their children safely restrained.

“Parents are encouraged to bring their children with them, so we can show them how to properly buckle a child in,” Tisbury police officer Joe Ballotte, the event’s organizer, said.

Don Dupray, the Massachusetts Child Passenger Safety (CPS) Program statewide training coordinator, also plans to attend. Eleven first responders, including Officer Ballotte, have been trained as certified technicians in car seat installation through Mr. Dupray and the CPS program he oversees.

Nationwide, motor vehicle injuries are the leading cause of death among children, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website. But many of the deaths can be prevented, the CDC says. Placing children in age- and size-appropriate car seats and booster seats reduces serious and fatal injuries by more than half, based on statistics from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).

It’s the law

The Massachusetts CPS Law requires that all children riding in passenger motor vehicles must be in a Federally approved child passenger restraint that is properly fastened and secured until they are eight years old or over 57 inches tall. Children under the age of 13 are required to wear a safety belt, as are passengers of all ages under the Massachusetts Safety Belt Law. Drivers who violate either section of the CPS Law face a $25 fine.

Prospective parents are made aware of the CPS Law before their babies are born, according to Martha’s Vineyard Hospital maternity nurse manager Joyce Capobianco said. Island obstetricians give expectant mothers a letter informing them of the car seat law, along with the suggestion that they contact a certified technician from a list of names provided or their town police department for assistance. Once the seat has been installed and inspected, the technician signs off on a form parents return to the hospital.

No easy feat

To help ensure the CPS Law’s implementation, child safety seat checkup events are offered around Massachusetts on a regular basis, according to the Executive Office of Public Safety and Security (EOPSS), which operates the technician training program started in 1997.

Although the State’s police officers are not required to take it, for many years they were the primary participants, Mr. Dupray said in an email in response to questions emailed from The Times. The program has branched out to include fire, emergency management and health services personnel, pediatricians, parent groups, and transportation companies.

“There are approximately 35,000 certified technicians in the country,” Mr. Dupray noted. “Massachusetts currently has 565 certified technicians, 20 of whom are additionally certified instructors.”

Becoming a certified technician is no easy feat. Participants must attend a 36-hour training course that covers 14 topics, and pass three comprehensive multiple choice exams and three hands-on skill tests to become certified, Mr. Dupray said. Also, they must participate in a public seat check event for a minimum of two hours and be observed by the instructor staff as they educate parents and caregivers in the proper use of child passenger safety seats.

The certification period is spread out over two years. In order to remain certified, a technician must complete six hours of continuing education, remain current in the CPS industry, and have five car seat installations checked and certified by a CPS Instructor or a qualified senior technician, Mr. Dupray said.

On Friday he is giving a refresher class for the Island’s certified CPS technicians to review the most important points of the curriculum and highlight changes in the industry. The four- to six-hour class will count towards continuing education credits.

Some of the more recent changes in the industry that Mr. Dupray will cover include higher weight seats, rear-facing seats designed for children up to two years old, and the introduction of the LATCH system, an installation device available in some vehicles produced after 2002 that does not require the use of a seat belt.

Common mistakes

Mr. Dupray said that child seat misuse continues to be a challenge to the child passenger safety industry, mostly due to a lack of education or understanding.

“A proper installation will typically require even the seasoned technician to refer to both the child seat manufacturer’s instructions as well as the vehicle owner’s manual,” he explained. “Conflicting and confusing instructions are becoming a thing of the past, but misuse continues to exist.”

Mr. Dupray said some of the most common examples include not securing the car seat harness snugly on the child or the car seat firmly in a vehicle; using a car seat that a child has outgrown by height or weight; turning a car seat forward-facing too soon; and prematurely moving a child into a seat belt designed for an adult .

“One of the most drastic misuse examples, that was fortunately observed and corrected, was an infant brought to a seat check event not harnessed in the child seat nor the child seat installed in the vehicle!” he added.

Tips on selecting and installing a car seat or booster seat are available online at www.mass.gov/eopss/crime-prev-personal-sfty/traffic-safety/. Click on the words “child passenger safety” for a link.

For information on the May 4 car seat safety check and installation in Vineyard Haven, call the Tisbury Police Department at 508-696-4240.