Statistics from the North Dakota Department of Health state that a high majority of people are misusing car seats designed for infants, toddlers and children.
According to the department, 88 percent of the car seats checked in 2010 were being misused in some form. Fifteen percent of the restraints used were inappropriate for the child; 85 percent of the children were too small or too young; and 46 percent of the children were too large and were exceeding the maximum height or weight of the seat they were in.
The department announced this on Feb. 1, as North Dakota observes February as Child Passenger Safety Month. The importance of car seat safety is severe, as the Department of Health states in a news release that the number one killer of children in the state is motor vehicle crashes.
"Car seats, boosters and seat belts are the 'vaccines' for preventing deaths and injuries to children in car crashes," the release states. "For a vaccine to work, it needs to be spaced properly and administered correctly, just like car seats. It is important that children ride in the right kind of restraint to fit their body. Using the wrong restraint and utilizing it incorrectly could lessen the effectiveness of a car seat, booster or seat belt and puts a child more at risk."
According to a news release from the department, it is suggested that one reads the instructions for the restraint being selected to make sure the child falls within the guidelines indicated by the manufacturer.
"Restraining manufacturers are required to use the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's testing standards while crash testing their seats," the release stated. "Not following the instructions can cause the restraint to not perform as it should in a crash, putting the passenger at more risk."
During an observation survey performed in Minot in 2010, 100 percent of infants younger than 1 year were riding in a car safety seat; 87.9 percent of toddlers, ages 1 through 5, were buckled in a car seat, booster seat or seat belt; and 75 percent of children, ages 6 through 10, were buckled in a car seat, booster seat or seat belt. Minot and North Dakota overall were consistent with these figures, except that children ages 6 through 10 -- throughout the state, a little more than 80 percent were buckled in a car seat, booster seat or seat belt.
The survey also showed that in a 16-year period, from 1994 to 2010, the number of infants, toddlers and children in a safety restraint increased.
While First District Health Unit, in Minot, does not do car seat checks it does not currently have a certified child passenger safety technician on staff it does have a distribution program for car seats, said Lori Brierley, director of health promotion and communication with First District.
To participate in this program, Brierley said that parents should call her at First District, at 852-1376, and set up an appointment. The program is open to anyone and is not income-based.
"The maximum cost for a seat is $25," she said, noting that if a person has low income or an economic need, "they can fill out an income worksheet and they can qualify to get the seat at a discounted price, or even free."
The car seats are distributed either during a group conference or occasionally one-on-one.
"That group or class would watch a video on the proper use of the seat and we would go through and have them practice ... to make sure they understand how to use the seat," Brierley said. "I think everyone that goes through it learns something they didn't know about the use of that particular seat."
Brierley estimates that 20-some car seats are distributed every month. Last year, about 250 seats were distributed.
"One thing we really try to reinforce is that every time you move from one seat to the next, you lose a layer of protection," she said. "Every move is a little less protection. We like to see them stay as long as its appropriate in the stage they are in."
Common issues about car seat usage include when to upgrade to a different seat, as well as "just understanding whether the straps need to be higher than the shoulders or lower ..." she said. "It depends on the seat."
The department advised that:
+ Children younger than 13 years of age should ride in the back seat.
+ When using a restraint, always follow the manufacturer's instructions.
+ Children should ride rear-facing until at least 2 years of age. There are two types of car seats available for rear-facing: an infant seat, which can used until the child is between 22 to 35 pounds; and a convertible seat, which can be used rear- or forward-facing, and can be used up to 30 to 40 pounds for rear-facing or until the highest weight or height limit allowed by the manufacturer is met.
+ When children are at least 2 years of age, or have outgrown the highest rear-facing limits of their car seat, they may ride forward-facing in a car seat with a harness. Use the seat until the child reaches the harness's highest weight limit allowed by the manufacturer. Car seats with harnesses can be used up to 40 to 100 pounds.
+ When children have outgrown the harness in their forward-facing car seat, they may be moved to a booster. The child should be at least 40 pounds and at least 4 years of age. Keep the child in the booster until about 4 feet, 9 inches tall or the seat belt fits correctly over the child's body. Most boosters can be used up to 80 to 120 pounds.
+ Children should use a seat belt when it fits over the body correctly. For a seat belts to fit properly, the lap belt must lie snugly across the upper thighs and be snug across the shoulder and chest. It should not lie on the stomach or across the neck.