If you’re a child passenger safety instructor, technician or advocate, you’ve probably been there: A situation not covered clearly in the manual. What to do?
You young whipper-snappers don’t remember the days of walking uphill both ways to a car seat check event, barefoot in the snow. Back then, things were different!
Olde Days: Call it a gray area or tough choice. Educate parent. Allow them to make the choice.
Today: Call manufacturer immediately, force them to say YES OR NO.
The modern thinking has appeal. In the era of social media where people want an answer within 2 minutes and 20 words or less, having a BLACK & WHITE answer from the company sounds great, right?
One problem is that these absolute decisions from manufacturers are usually NO. Some could ultimately prevent using a child restraint in useful situations. Was the decision NO because it is has been tested to be unsafe, or even thought to be unsafe in any way? It may be that liability concerns of the unknown forced the company to say NO, rather than spend hours and dollars on the research and testing required to make an actual determination.
The bigger problem is that you are now making the choice for the parent, based on what someone told you unofficially, with no support from the printed manual or even an FAQ on manufacturer’s website.
Sure, you might have talked directly to the company’s safety advocate in person or have it in writing by means of an email from a company engineer you trust. Trouble is, that information could change if you talked to the company’s legal counsel in their certifications & standards department, a customer service representative or even the same person a few months later. So, is this information a RULE and does it apply to you or to everyone?
We’ve all shared these great tidbits of learning with colleagues and use them to help us educate parents. The real problem arises if we relay this information to parents as if it was actually included in an owner’s manual or state law. That is when the responsibility for safety and liability shifts from the caregiver and/or manufacturer to you, as an educator.
So, by all means, if you have a clear safety concern with a product or manual and need a clarification, reach out and ask the manufacturer. But before you share it to the public in a way that might be interpreted as a rule, please consider that in a different situation, this type of “unofficial” response might not be the best choice for someone else’s child. It may also prevent another advocate from giving the safest options to a caregiver, especially months or years from now when this word-of-mouth information may be obsolete. We are trained as educators in order to help parents make these choices, so not every small detail needs manufacturer clarification. If it is important, encourage the manufacturer to update their manual or website with this information so that we can all benefit.
When in doubt, please, don’t ask and don’t make them tell!