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Child car seat safety takes a front seat

City begins education, enforcement effort

Spokane police are putting a new emphasis on making sure children are strapped into their car seats properly.

A Washington Traffic Safety Commission grant is paying for a campaign over the next several months to improve drivers’ habits when it comes to securing their children in vehicles.

The $130,000 effort involves public education and enforcement of traffic laws on child occupant safety. Police are backing up the effort by developing a force of nine officers with certificates in child car seat safety.

According to police, children are 60 percent less likely to be killed in a vehicle crash if they are riding in the back seat. But nine out of 10 car seats in Spokane County are being used incorrectly.

Also, use of a rear-facing child seat from age 1 to 2 is five times safer than a forward-facing seat.

Protecting children requires the correct use of the proper child seats, police said.

Law officers want parents and drivers to have children under 13 riding in the back seat, and to have them buckled into booster seats until they are 8 years old and at least 4-foot-9. Rear-facing infant car seats are used for children up to a year or more in age, depending on the weight rating of the seat.

The biggest mistake parents make is graduating their children too soon from rear-facing infant and toddler seats to forward-facing child seats, police said.

Very young children are especially vulnerable to paralyzing injuries, since a third of babies’ weight is in their heads, and their spines are not fully formed, said Spokane Police Officer Teresa Fuller.

A child should be fastened into a rear-facing seat for as long as he or she is below the seat’s weight rating, she said. Proper installation is critical. The seat should move no more than an inch, and restraint harness fabric should not be so loose it can be pinched into a fold.

Also, the harness retainer should be clipped at armpit level.

One of the biggest mistakes is to place a child seat in the front passenger seat.

Because they have a six-year safety life, only new child seats should be used.

Children should not use regular seat belts until they are 4 feet 9 inches tall.

Here are the basic rules:

•Children from newborn through 12 months and less than 20 pounds must be placed in a rear-facing infant seat, and drivers are advised to use that seat for as long as the seat allows.

•From 13 months to age 4, children should be in a child car seat with a five-point harness.

•From age 4 until the child is at least 4 feet 9 inches tall, a booster seat should be used. Boosters should only be placed with a lap and shoulder belt.

•Until age 13, children must ride in the rear seat of the vehicle.

Citations for child restraint violations carry a fine of $124. However, the citation can be dismissed with proof of purchasing an appropriate child seat within seven days.

The law was updated by the legislature in 2007, and there is confusion among members of the public about its requirements, said Marion Lee, an injury prevention specialist with the Spokane Regional Health District.

“Our goal is education,” she said of the current emphasis.

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