I frequently read posts on various parent forums from moms and dads who have taken their vehicles and car seats to child passenger safety technicians to be inspected or installed. They seem to either have glowing reviews of the tech with whom they worked or they were fuming about something the tech did or didn’t do. So let’s go through the steps a good tech will take with a parent to ensure the car seat is installed and used properly.
First off, who is a child passenger safety technician? What makes this person any more qualified to install my car seat than the guy at the service station? Where can I go to have my seat checked? Can’t I just go to the local fire station/police department/highway patrol?
A child passenger safety technician has taken the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA)-developed curriculum. This class is a 3-4 day class and covers about 32 hours of training including a car seat checkup event, all of which the tech must pass. It’s an intensive course that covers crash dynamics, injury prevention, seat belt mechanics, and of course, car seats. While Frank the mechanic may be able to replace your seat belt, I guarantee you the good CPS tech will be able to install your car seat tightly and tell you how to keep it from tipping.
You can’t just drive down to the local fire station and ask the helpful, phat firefighters (hey, the ladies are in shape too!) to install your seats. Not every firefighter is a certified CPS tech and they may do more harm than good. How? They may put a locking clip on the wrong side of the car seat or not have the harness in the correct harness slots. They want to help and it’s very noble, but in this field we worry a lot about liability and making sure things are done correctly. After all, it’s a child’s life about which we’re concerned! Same with the police department and highway patrol—just call before you go to see if they have a certified CPS tech on duty. They may have someone and you can schedule an appointment at a mutually acceptable time.
When you go to see a tech, whether by an appointment or at a free event, please take your child, the car seat manual, and your vehicle manual. Take a stroller if you don’t have someone to hold your sweetie. A good tech will look at your child in his car seat before you take him out of the harness. We want to assess how you have the harness tightened and where the harness slots are on his shoulders.
Next the tech will have you remove your child. He’ll do a quick visual inspection of the car seat to see how it’s installed, then tug on the seat at the belt path. The tech will uninstall the seat, no matter how well it is currently installed. We do this for a couple of reasons. We must inspect the harness on the back of the seat: even though the harness may be perfect from the front, it may be tied in a knot in the back or attached to a locking clip instead of the splitter plate. We also need the date of manufacture and model number for our records and the sticker containing that information may be on the back or bottom of the car seat. At this time, if your child has grown and needs the harness slots changed, the tech will show you how to do it.
Here’s where you’ll learn about your car seat. You’ll learn how to change the harness height, tighten and loosen the harness, and go over the parts of the car seat. This is the part where it’s handy to have someone watching your child for you or have a stroller where your child can chill so you can pay attention to what the tech is saying. Your child will also be needed if there are any adjustments to be made to the seat, so please don’t send him off with dad into a store to browse.
Now it’s time to reinstall the car seat. The technician will need your help, so please don’t answer any phone calls. You’ll learn the tips and tricks for how to install your car seat in your vehicle. If you install your car seat in other cars, let the tech know and s/he can give you ideas for different makes and models too. You’ll need to install your seat or help out at the very least so that you know how to install your seat yourself. After all, what happens if Cousin Emma accidentally unbuckles the car seat when she climbs into the back seat or if the really thorough detail guys at the car wash unbuckle it to vacuum all those Cheerios out from under it? We aren’t always available on a whim, you know 😉 .
Finally, some techs do take donations for their programs or Safe Kids coalitions. Others do it as a part of their job or because they really want to make sure every child rides safely in every vehicle. You don’t have to give your life’s savings, you don’t even have to give a dime if you don’t want to, so don’t feel obligated. Just know that your child is riding safer because you took the time to make sure he is. Good job!