I was recently involved in a NHTSA special study called NCRUSS. I was part of a team that evaluates how children are restrained in the vehicle and what the driver knows about child safety seats and how to install them. My job was to observe and document restaint use (and misuse), and then refer the parent to a local CPS Tech or Inspection Station for a complete and thorough check. I know most people won’t/don’t follow through with that so the more dire the situation, the more I feel the need to stress that they really MUST do this. But I literally have 60 seconds or less when it’s busy and the next vehicle is waiting to convince them of this.
In this case, I immediately suspected that the CR was expired based on design features. However, I’m not permitted to uninstall the CR so I couldn’t check the back of the shell for an expiration stamp and the label with the Date of Manufacturer either wasn’t visable or had peeled off. The seatbelt, which was used to secure the CR in the forward-facing position, was not locked, the tether strap wasn’t visable and certainly wasn’t attached to the tether anchor in the vehicle, the harness straps were a good 2″ below the child’s shoulders, loose and totally twisted into ropes.
Since my role in this study is only to use my knowledge and training to observe, document and refer them to someone else for help – the best I could do (after I took 15 seconds to show her how to switch the retractor and pulled the rope-like harness straps snug around the child) was to try to convey a sence of urgency in regard to getting the CR and the installation checked by a CPS Tech. But with the next vehicle waiting, I didn’t have time to thoughtfully chose my approach. I believe the first words out of my mouth were something to the extent of “I’m going to be very honest – I have multiple concerns about this seat and its installation. I suspect that the CR may be expired and may also be involved in a recall. A CPS Tech can check all these things for you and show you how to install the seat correctly. PLEASE make sure that you make an appt with someone from this list <hands her a list> right away”.
At that point I noticed the tears welling in her eyes and I felt soooo bad. I said “No, no, no! You can’t cry! I’m not giving you the bad mommy award, I swear”! But it was too late. The tears were flowing. At that point I pointed to the unoccupied booster that she had in the back seat and said “Look ! You have a booster seat! You’re obviously a safety-conscious parent”. At which point she told me that she keeps it in the car just in case she has to transport someone else’s child. Clearly, this woman cared about keeping kids safe in her car. Clearly, she wanted to do the right thing and probably thought she was doing the right thing. And she obviously felt awful about being told that I had “multiple concerns” about the seat and its installation.
I can empathize. Even though I never went to a CPS Tech when my first son was a baby (I didn’t even know such a certification existed), I do remember the moment when I figured out that despite all my best efforts, I never had his infant seat installed correctly. Needless to say, I was horrified. But horror quickly turned to facination and I became an information junkie hooked on Child Passenger Safety!
I’ll never know if that mom ever went to see a CPS Tech. At the very least I hope she went home and did a little research online. Maybe she did and came across the forums at car-seat.org. Maybe she asked some questions there and got some good info. Maybe she figured it out on her own. Who knows, maybe she’s hooked on CPS now too and reading this blog. If she is, I hope she can forgive my lack of good bedside manners that day. And I hope she forgives herself too. We moms can be really hard on ourselves sometimes. I know being a mom is a tough gig but sometimes we’re our own worst enemy and we need to give ourselves a break.
So for all you moms (and dads) out there doing the best you can – I offer these thoughts. The problem with things you don’t know is that you never know what you don’t know. So, live and learn. Seek out information on a variety of topics. Be open to new information and suggestions from credible sources. And if along the way, you figure out that you’re one of the 95% who aren’t using your carseat as well as you could – take the time to educate yourself. Then take the time to educate your friends and family and neighbors. It snowballs, it really does. Share a link on facebook, refer a friend to a CPS Tech or to the forums at car-seat.org, become a CPS Tech yourself if you really have the passion! The point is that if we all do just a little bit, collectively we make a huge difference in keeping children safe in motor vehicles. And that is something to smile about.