Winsted-Lester Prairie Journal, Nov. 15, 1999

County destroys unsafe child seats

By Gail Lipe

The McLeod County Public Health Department, with the help of the highway department, crushed and disposed of unsafe child safety seats on Wednesday.

The seats that were destroyed were either over six years old or had been in a car crash.

"The purpose is to raise awareness for parents to check to see if they are using child safety seats correctly," said Jean Johnson, public family health nurse.

Johnson has been trained by the National Highway Traffic Administration as a child passenger safety technician. The other family health nurses also have had some training.

Johnson said she had to wrestle with some people to get the seats. "If a car seat is over six years old, it is like outdoor plastic furniture," Johnson said. "It compromises the seat."

The hot and cold makes plastic brittle, so the seats are not as safe.

Johnson also said seats that have been in a car crash may be compromised and should be disposed of.

The other part of the mission is to educate people how to use the child safety seats correctly, and which ones to use with each stage of physical development.

"About 80 percent of child safety seats are used incorrectly," Johnson said, which can cause unnecessary injuries.

Any infant that is under 1-year-old or 20 pounds should be facing the rear of the car. "The bones in their head and neck are not strong enough to deal with the sudden jerks if they are facing front," Johnson said.

The child has to be in the seat correctly and the seat installed in the car correctly. The seat should be tightly installed in the car, with no more than one-inch give in any direction. The child should be safely held in with the seat belts with no more than one finger width under them.

According to Johnson, if the child and seat are loose, a crash would shake the child and cause injuries.

"People need to remember that seat belts in cars have been designed for adult bodies, not child bodies," said Johnson.

She also said a child should be in a booster seat until the knees can bend comfortably over the seat with their back against the seat. This may be older than 4-years-old, which is what the law requires.

"If they are not in a booster seat, they slouch and the seat belt moves up to their abdomen," Johnson said. "It can cause other internal injuries."

Johnson encourages everyone using child safety seats to read the instructions that come with the seats and the instructions in their cars.

"People do not understand the importance of using car seats that are safest for their child," Johnson said. "They hesitate spending $70 because they can get them used. But the expense of an emergency room visit from a crash, or a hospital stay is much more."

Johnson asks people she works with if it is worth $70 to keep their child from being injured in a crash. She said once they realize the dangers of using seats that are old or have been in a crash, they have been more than happy to give them up.

Public Health Nursing has child safety seats that people can access. These seats are available for people, who are income eligible, to purchase at a rate that corresponds to their income.

Part of the program includes training. If a family purchases one of the seats, they have to undergo the training so they can use it safely.

One of the circumstances Johnson runs into is grandparents saying "When we raised kids, there were no car seats."

Johnson said things are different now. Children did not travel in cars as much as they do now, the speed of travel is faster now and there were not as many vehicles on the road as there is now.

Johnson also works with an Early Childhood Family Education program. She said when she did safety checks with them, 95 percent were using the child safety seats unsafely. "It was just some little things that parents did not know that could cause injury."


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