If you’re concerned whether your child’s car seat is properly installed, there’s good reason — and free assistance.
Vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for children age 4, and yet an estimated 90 parents of local parents aren’t installing or using car seats properly. When correctly installed, car seats reduce fatal injury by 71 percent for infants 1 and under, and 54 percent for ages 1 to 4.
The La Crosse County Health Department offers car seat checks from 3 to 7 p.m. the first Thursday of the month through September at Brenengen Chevrolet in West Salem, and the second Thursday of the month at Brenengen Chevrolet Cadillac in Onalaska.
Checks for infant, toddler and booster seats are free, and no registration is needed. Licensed department employees conduct the checks, guiding parents through installing and removing the seats. Checks typically last 30 minutes, and staff will also screen the seats for recalls.
“Installing a car seat is a complicated process,” said Maggie Smith, health educator for the La Crosse County Health Department and a child passenger safety instructor. “We suggest parents always read the manuals, especially if the car seat has a lot of features. We frequently see the straps or the harness aren’t tight enough.”
“People are often surprised they haven’t installed their car seats correctly,” Smith added. “Of the car seats we’ve checked in 2016, 96 percent of them were either incorrect upon arrival, or uninstalled at arrival.”
Car seats are labeled with expiration dates, and should be discarded after six years of use or if involved in a car accident. Some newer car seat models have steel frames and may last longer. Seats come in progressive sizes, from infant to convertible to booster seats. Smith recommends that car seats be positioned rear facing until the child is at least 2 years old.
“Many expectant parents bring the seats for their delicate infants,” Smith said. “We encourage them to come back when they transition to the next seat.”
Wisconsin state law requires that infants and children are restrained in a car or booster seat until they are 8 years old or over 57 inches in height and 80 pounds in weight. It is recommended that children ages 13 and under ride in the backseat.
“People move kids to regular seat belts way too soon,” Smith said. “Parents should look at how the seat belt fits. The belt should lay low across the hips and over the shoulder, not resting on the neck or belly.”
Just as important as proper use is consistent use. According to the Center of Disease Control and Prevention, not using seat belts, car seats and booster seats contributed to the deaths of more than 9,500 people in 2013. The CDC warns that car seats need to be used no matter how short the trip.
The La Crosse County Health Department rents car seats to families or friends transporting children. A rental for up to three weeks is $25, plus a $25 deposit. Some families may qualify for free seats funded by a grant from the Wisconsin DOT.
New this year, the health department will also hold free checks in the fall and winter months at the La Crosse County Fire Department to encourage safety year round.
“People really appreciate this service,” Smith said.