GREENFIELD — Given the number and variety of child safety seats available on today’s market, experts say parents need to know one thing: one size does not fit all.
Not all safety seats fit properly in all vehicles, and as they develop, not all kids are suited to all seats.
“The choices are amazing,” said Linda Garrity, Hancock Regional Hospital community education coordinator. “With the number of seats on the market, all of them are different, and they all fit differently. There’s way more to it.”
To help sort through the nuances and details of proper child seat use, the hospital is highlighting its ongoing service as a permanent seating station — the only one in Hancock County — during this year’s Child Passenger Safety Week, which runs through Saturday.
The week of awareness is a program of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, which emphasizes the importance of getting the proper safety seat and using it correctly.
Car crashes are the leading cause of death for children between the ages of 8 and 14, the association reports. In Indiana alone, 34 children died in car crashes in 2013, Garrity said. Having a child strapped in properly can save a life, she said.
The hospital’s program, now in its fifth year and staffed by two certified instructors, continues to grow but is still relatively unknown in the area, something Garrity is hoping to change.
“It’s probably one of our best-kept secrets,” she said.
The service performed 48 inspections during its first year but is on track to triple that figure for 2015.
In addition to inspecting the seat for the right fit, staff will also explain how to properly install and use the seat, make recommendations based on the individual child and situation and provide free seats for those families that can’t afford them and meet financial guidelines for the program.
The hospital’s efforts are funded through a state grant whose dollars are generated through traffic citations for safety seat violation on the state’s highways.
Though Indiana law requires child seat use to the age of 8, parents need to be aware it’s not always safe to begin buckling kids into adult seat belts when the rules allow, Garrity noted.
“Many kids still need seats even at 10 or 12 years old,” she said.
Smaller children, though they meet the legal age requirements to use adult restraints, could slip underneath the belts in a collision. Others have the lap belt riding on their stomachs instead of across their hips, which poses the danger of internal injury in an accident even though they’re restrained by the system.
“There’s a difference between what is legal and what is recommended,” Garrity said. “They don’t always match.”
Hancock County Sheriff Mike Shepherd said the issue of proper child restraint while in a vehicle is important, and road officers keep a sharp eye out for violators.
Shepherd is still troubled by the memory of a woman he saw driving a van with a child not buckled in.
“(The) toddler (was) standing in the front seat with its hands on the dashboard,” Shepherd said.
Shepherd was previously certified in safety seat inspection and understands the significance of the program.
Greenfield Police Chief John Jester said understanding child safety seats is a detailed process, and it’s difficult in many cases for parents to know if they’re getting it right.
Asking for help is not something to be ashamed of, he said.
“We’ve all been there and done that,” Jester said.
And while patrol officers are sensitive to the issue, the unfortunate reality is that oftentimes, ill-fitting seats, improper installation or both aren’t discovered until something bad happens.
“It becomes more apparent when there’s been a crash, and the child is in a seat,” he said, and any knowledge parents can gain is beneficial.
“Even if you take an hour-long class, the kid’s life is worth it,” Jester said.
Over the years, Garrity said the staff has seen a lot of seats that have simply been buckled in but aren’t quite right for the situation. And a simple miscalculation could have serious consequences.
“It’s rare that we seat that comes properly installed because there are so many nuances to it.” She said. “Misuse is still unbelievably high.”
Hancock Regional Hospital offers a free child seat inspection service by appointment. To learn more or sign up, call Linda Garrity at (317) 468-4383.