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Are CPSTs Car Seat Experts?

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In the world of Child Passenger Safety, certain safety topics are a routine course of discussion: Is it better to use a booster or a harnessed seat with no tether? When is it okay for children to sit in the front seat? What do you do if a child needs to use a seating position with no headrest?

ExpertEvery once in a while, though, there are questions that center around the practice of being a Child Passenger Safety Technician and what that means. One question I’ve seen come up from time to time is: Do you consider/refer to yourself as a “car seat expert”?

The answer, almost unanimously, is no. As one of the few dissenters, I’m baffled by that.

People’s reasoning varies. Some say that they don’t know everything and therefore can’t be considered an expert. Some say there are other people who know more than they do. Some say that it sounds egotistical. Some say that they still need to refer to manuals for information.

I say that none of that excludes someone from being an expert. I also contend that claiming we’re not experts actually hurts our reputation.

First, let’s look at it from a practical standpoint. When I tell people I’m a “Child Passenger Safety Technician,” they usually get a confused look on their face. What the heck does that even mean? It sounds like a piece of bureaucratic corporatese. It sounds like someone who engineers or assembles…children? I always need to follow it up with something like, “I help parents choose and install car seats,” or “I help keep children safe in cars,” but that’s all very clunky. It’s so much easier and clearer to say, “I’m a car seat expert.” That tells them everything they need to know.

Next, and more importantly, let’s take a look at the definition of “expert”: a person who has a comprehensive and authoritative knowledge of or skill in a particular area.

Okay, so what does “comprehensive” mean? Including all or nearly all elements or aspects of something. I don’t think anyone involved in Child Passenger Safety would claim to know everything, but I don’t think anyone in any field would claim absolute knowledge. Even Neil deGrasse Tyson doesn’t know everything about the cosmos, but he’s certainly seen as an expert. Are CPSTs not experts just because they haven’t memorized the LATCH manual or installed a foonf?

Let’s look at “authoritative.” Able to be trusted as being accurate or true; reliable. Online and in-person, CPSTs use their credentials to explain why people should listen to them. Our training makes us better advocates than the friend who just loves her particular (misused) car seat, or the pediatrician who tells parents to turn their babies forward-facing because their legs touch the seat back. If we’re not trusted, accurate, and true, why are we giving advice, and why should anyone listen?

As a consumer, I’d be turned off if the guy who came to give us an estimate on a new fence today said, “Oh, I do this to help people but I’m not really an expert on fences…” Or if my optometrist said, “Nah, I wouldn’t consider myself an expert on eyes. There are ophthalmologists who know more than I do.” Or if my mechanic said, “I have to look up the part number for this. Clearly I’m no expert on fixing cars!”

I go to the fence guy, the eye doctor, the mechanic not because they know everything or are the absolute best in the world, but because they have the skills and training to do what I can’t.

Being a car seat expert doesn’t mean knowing everything. It doesn’t mean that we never have to look things up (in fact, our training specifically tells us that we should look things up). It doesn’t mean we can solve every problem. It doesn’t mean we’ll never run into a situation we haven’t encountered before. It doesn’t mean there aren’t other people in the car seat universe who know more or have more experience than we do.

Being an expert does mean that we know more than the average bear, at least in terms of child passenger safety. It means we’re a reliable source of information that we can use to help make kids safer.

To claim we’re not experts on car seats undermines what we do. Why would a parent trust someone who says, “I’m no expert, but your kid shouldn’t be in a booster seat”? It is our expertise that leads people to seek our advice and to trust what we say. If we claim we’re not experts, where is our credibility?

 

Deadliest Driving States

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last place ribbonA few months ago, I wrote a post about America’s best and worst drivers. Based on that study, drivers in Fort Collins, Colorado, were the least likely to get into crashes (and therefore considered “safest”). Drivers in Worcester, Massachusetts, got into the most crashes and were ranked worst.

But the number of crashes doesn’t necessarily correlate to the severity or outcome of crashes.

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety has broken down statistics from the federal Fatality Analysis Reporting System to show traffic fatalities by state, in terms of both population and miles driven. The national average of fatalities per 100,000 people is 10.3. The national average per million miles traveled is 1.11.

Which areas fared the best and worst?

Well, in terms of both population and miles traveled, Washington, D.C., had the fewest fatalities (3.1 deaths per 100,000 people, and 0.56 deaths per 100,000 miles traveled). The state with the most traffic deaths was Montana, with 22.6 fatalities per 100,000 people and 1.96 deaths per million miles traveled.

MontanaWhen you think about it, this isn’t surprising. Washington, D.C., is small and entirely urban. Crashes there might be frequent, but they’re probably fender-benders in congested traffic. Montana, on the other hand, is largely rural: 98% of their traffic fatalities were in rural areas. (Perhaps some lives could have been saved with quicker access to emergency responders or facilities?) It has varied terrain that includes mountainous roads and flat, wide-open spaces where people might be tempted to speed up. Montana also doesn’t have a ban on cell phone use or texting while driving.

Washington DCLet’s go back to that list of “worst drivers” based on frequency of crashes alone. The four worst cities were Washington, D.C., and three cities in Massachusetts. But as we just saw, Washington, D.C., has the lowest fatality rate. Second-lowest? Massachusetts. So crashes in those areas might be more common, but they’re not likely to be fatal.

The states/districts with the fewest fatalities per 100,000 population are:

  • 1. Washington, D.C. (3.1)
  • 2. Massachusetts (4.9)
  • 3. (tie) New Jersey and New York (6.1)
  • 5. Rhode Island (6.2)

The most fatalities per 100,000 people:

  • 5. (tie) Alabama and Oklahoma (17.6)
  • 4. West Virginia (17.9)
  • 2. (tie) Mississippi and North Dakota (20.5)
  • 1. Montana (22.6)

Keep in mind that several factors play into these statistics. Rural vs. urban areas, distracted driving laws, drunk driving laws, types of licenses, weather and road conditions, etc., so it’s not always possible to compare places as apples-to-apples. Don’t let statistics keep you from visiting Glacier National Park.

If you’re driving, don’t drink. Put down the cell phone and the mascara or razor. Obey the speed limit and slow down in bad weather. Have emergency provisions handy. And as always, use seat belts and appropriate child restraints.

 

Take Back Your Drive

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640px-Cell_phone_use_while_drivingApril is Distracted Driving Awareness Month, and the National Safety Council wants you to “Take Back Your Drive.” What does that mean? It means you do a little something for yourself while you’re driving: You give yourself the gift of safety.

The NSC is urging people to focus on being less distracted. By now we all know it’s bad to text and talk on hand-held phones, but more than 30 studies have shown that hands-free devices are just as bad—and might even be worse. Here are some interesting facts:

  • Drivers talking on hands-free devices can fail to see 50% of their surroundings
  • Activity in the part of the brain that detects movement decreases by 1/3 when listening or talking on the distracted drivingphone (hands-free or hand-held)
  • Hands-free features in dashboards can increase distraction
  • Using voice-to-text features can be more distracting than typing them, in part because of frustration with the feature “hearing” things incorrectly

The NSC says that people believe hands-free systems must be safe if they’re built into cars, but the reality is that they’re not. The organization is urging people to take its Focused Driver Challenge, which includes pledging not to have any phone conversations in the car, not to send texts by typing or dictating them, and not to enter GPS destinations while the car is moving, among other things.

You can’t control what other drivers do, but you can go a long way in making yourself and your family safer by being the best driver you can be.

Extended Rear-Facing Recommendations Updated

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IMG_1135Nearly all current convertibles will keep most kids rear-facing to 2 years old (the minimum recommend age to turn forward-facing). But if you want to keep your child rear-facing as long as possible, we have some recommendations for you.

We’ve recently updated our list of “Super Extended” Rear-Facing Seats to include relative newcomers like the Britax Boulevard ClickTight and the Safety 1st Grow and Go EX Air.

We have also updated our list of Best Convertible Seats for Extended Rear-Facing to include the new Graco Extend2Fit.  Stay tuned for our full review of the E2F!

Check them out to find the seat that’s right for you!

If you need more information on why you should keep your child rear-facing, you can check our post on Why Rear-Facing is Better.

Worried that a rear-facing seat would be hard to fit in your vehicle? We have a comprehensive Space-Saving Guide that compares how much room convertible seats take up. Many are very compact and are great for smaller back seats.

You don’t need to keep your kids rear-facing through college, but rear-facing them through at least a good chunk of preschool is easy to do!