A three-hour child safety seat inspection at Crossgates Mall this past Wednesday came up par for the course when not a single car seat brought to the experts was installed correctly.
The check – run by the Albany County Department of Public Works Traffic Safety Education Programs, Capital Region Safe Kids, the NYS Governor’s Traffic Safety Committee and Crossgates Mall – was one of several that take place throughout the year aimed at teaching parents how to safely install their child’s car seat. While Albany County Executive Dan McCoy called the 55 incorrectly installed car seats on Wednesday, July 17, an “eye opener,” Certified Child Passenger Safety Technician Instructor Bill Van Alstyne said the tally was not surprising.
“It’s an underground shocking thing that a lot of people don’t know until they come here. Parents are trying their best to get it right, it’s just that it’s very confusing and counterintuitive,” Van Alstyne said.
Van Alstyne, who is the program director of the county Traffic Safety Education Program, said wrongly installing the car seat is not the parent’s fault. Even after reading the written instructions, they still need to be educated hands-on for the instructions to make sense.
To become an instructor, Van Alstyne said he had to go through a full four-day, 32-hour course to be certified by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and Safe Kids Worldwide, and he has to be recertified every two years with six additional hours of training.
Mary Rozak, spokeswoman for McCoy, said officials noticed several problems with the car seats during the recent inspection. Some seats had expired or were under recall, unbeknownst to the parents, while others weren’t installed tightly enough or anchored correctly.
Each vehicle and car seat is different, which can cause confusion, Van Alstyne said.
“Unfortunately a misused car seat can be deadly in a traffic crash,” he added.
Van Alstyne said a car seat should not move 1 inch from side-to-side or front-to-back “when pulled with moderate force at the seatbelt path.”
Rozak also said there was some confusion regarding whether a seat should be rear-facing or forward-facing. According to SafeNY, children under 2 years old should always ride in a rear-facing car seat. From 2 to 3 years of age, children should remain in a rear-facing car seat until they reach the top height or weight limit allowed by the car seat’s manufacturer. Forward-facing, five-point harness car seats should be used for children 4 to 7 years old, up to the child’s eighth birthday, or until they reach the top height or weight limit allowed. A booster seat is next, which Van Alstyne said shouldn’t be used until a child is a minimum 4 years old and 40 pounds.
Although weight and height are still a factor, children can start using a seat belt around the age of 8, Van Alstyne said, but should still sit in the back seat. Sometimes, Van Alstyne said, smaller children up to 12 years old can still need a booster seat if the seatbelt doesn’t fit correctly. If a lap belt comes up to the abdomen and there’s crash, it can cause very serious internal injuries, Van Alstyne said.
When a car seat check was held in June at Colonie Center, Rozak said 91 cars came and only one had a properly installed seat.
“We get surprised when we find something installed correctly,” Van Alstyne said.
At each check, parents were given a free car seat if they had an expired or recalled model.
“It’s an incredibly complicated world for child safety,” Van Alstyne said. “Seek out a certified child passenger safety technician to come, or make an appointment … and get everything checked. You can’t just read the instructions, it’s not enough.”
The county’s next child car seat check will be on Wednesday, Aug. 7 from 3:30 to 6:30 p.m. at the Voorheesville Farmers Market at the United Methodist Church of Voorheesville.