Keeping your loved ones safe

By Karen Carter

"Nationwide, motor vehicle crashes are the number one killer of children (ages) 1 through 13," states Susan Bradbury, Traffic Safety Coordinator of Grays Harbor County. "Many times deaths and injuries can be prevented by proper use of car seats, booster seats, and seat belts."

The basic guideline for child safety seats:

Birth to 1-year   Rear-facing infant seat

1 to 4 years          Forward-facing toddler seat

4 to 8 years          Belt-positioning booster seat

Some guidelines list weight as a consideration when choosing child safety seats. Bradbury says, "Weight is actually not a factor in any of the laws. It actually depends on the set itself. The sticker on the side of the seat says the recommended weight for that particular seat."

The seatbelt laws in Washington state that all occupants of any age and size must be restrained properly. If the passenger is under 16-years-old, then the driver is held responsible if a seatbelt is not fastened correctly. The fine for driving with an improperly restrained child passenger is $124 per child for each offense.

"The Sheriff believes strongly in educating and enforcing on this issue," says Bradbury. "The goal is to transport kids in the safest way possible by educating drivers on the current law and recommendations. The best way to teach children proper restraint practices is to be a good example and always buckle up, every time!"

Some recommendations and tips from the Grays Harbor Traffic Safety Task Force include:

* Keep children under age 13 in the back seat. According to Bradbury, children are 70 percent more likely to be killed in an accident if they ride in the front seat because their internal organs are not developed enough to survive impact.

* Keep infants and toddlers in a rear-facing car seats for as long as possible. "Rear-facing is five times safer," says Bradbury. "A rear-facing seat spreads the force exerted on a child's body during a crash more evenly across the entire body. It limits the motion of the head, reducing the potential for neck injury."

* Use a 5-point harness seat until the child reaches the maximum weight or height limit of the seat. This style of seat prevents children from falling out of the restraint in a roll over accident.

* Children should ride in an appropriate car safety seat until they are 8-years-old or 4'9" tall. After this point they can wear an adult seat belt if it fits properly, otherwise it is best for them to continue to use a car safety seat until they grow into the seat belt.

In 2003, the National Automobile Dealers Association began the Boost for Safety campaign, which offers free child safety seat inspections by trained technicians. These technicians check to see if the child seat has been recalled due to a manufacturer defect, match the seat size with the child's size, and verify that the seat is installed properly.

The NADA has gathered data from over 1 million inspections and claim that 90-percent of the child seats are improperly installed or in need of replacement.

Due to liability issues and the fact that most of the trained inspectors have retired, there are currently no locations for child seat inspections in Grays Harbor County. The closest location for inspections is in Olympia, which is coordinated by the Thurston County Sheriff's office. The inspections are usually scheduled every three months at a local car dealership.