Keeping kids safe in cars

During an inspection Friday, 15-month-old Gabriella Dunker’s car seat was turned upside down and crumbs, candy and a few toys came cascading out.

Gabriella watched from the comfort of her mom’s arms.

It’s better that snacks fall out of the safety seats than children, experts said.

As many as 90 percent of children’s car seats are improperly installed, Snohomish County Fire District 1 spokeswoman Kristen Thorstenson said. That can lead to serious injury or death.

When child seats are used the way they’re intended, they can increase the chances that an infant will survive a crash by more than 70 percent, studies show.

That’s why a team of experts gathered outside Babies R Us in Lynnwood on Friday to offer free inspections and tips to parents. It’s part of National Child Passenger Safety Week, which continues through Sept. 27.

Firefighters, police officers and hospital volunteers tugged, turned and twisted around 30 seats, helping moms and dads get a better fit for their precious cargo.

It took more than an hour to help one mom rearrange two car seats in the back of her minivan.

“She didn’t do it wrong,” Kim Schroeder, a Fire District 1 spokeswoman, said. “Now, she’s doing it better.”

Gabriella recently graduated from a rear-facing infant car seat into a forward-facing one meant for toddlers, said her mom, Alix.

It’s a common mistake, Thorstenson said. The toddler seat can be adjusted to face the back of the car. Until Gabriella grows up a bit more, the rear-facing seat is safer.

“It’s a huge success for us to turn a little one back,” Thorstenson said.

Children’s spines are especially vulnerable to whiplash, she said. Facing backward protects the neck.

“I had no clue,” Gabriella’s mom said. “I was very upset because my child’s safety comes first. I thought I did everything right.”

Washington state law requires children’s seat be properly installed, Washington State Patrol trooper Dennis Wojciechowitcz said.

He could write $124 tickets, but typically just helps correct the problems.

“I can generally fix it right then and there,” he said.

Use common sense when determining if a child fits into a booster seat or car seat, said Shawneri Guzman, a Snoho­mish Safe Kids spokeswoman. Hips and collar bones are where seat belts should be fastened, not necks and bellies, she said.

“With car seats, it’s confusing,” she said. “It doesn’t hurt to get a second opinion.”

Many Snohomish County fire stations, police departments and hospitals offer free appointments to inspect car seats.

“It’s the responsibility of every parent and caregiver out there to make sure their children are safely restrained, every trip, every time,” Guzman said.

Shelly Nelson, 32, stopped by Friday’s event to have her children’s seats checked.

The inspectors were concerned about the harness placement on an infant’s seat. Adjustments were made before Grace, who was just 5 weeks old, was buckled up and the family went on their way.

“I’m going to feel better,” Nelson said. “It’s kind of like a weight lifted off my shoulders.”

Reporter Jackson Holtz: 425-339-3437 or jholtz@heraldnet.com.

Child car seat safety

Most child seats are installed improperly, experts said. Here are some tips for making sure children stay safe:

n Always follow the car seat and automaker’s instructions for proper installation.

n Keep children in rear-facing car seats as long as possible.

n If you have any questions about car seat installation, ask an expert.

For more information and to find the nearest car seat check location, visit Snohomish County Safe Kids at www.snosafekids.org or the Washington State Safety Restraint Coalition at www.800bucklup.org.

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