HELENA — Correctly installing a car seat or a booster seat is an important part of keeping children safe on the road, but it’s not always easy to do.
In the Helena area, trained technicians can help people ensure their car seats are installed right, and they’re using the right one — at no cost.
Buckle Up Montana coordinator Tracie Kiesel is a child passenger safety contact and a trained car seat technician who helps people make sure their car seats are secure.
“We want to make sure kids are in the right car seat, at the right time, and installed correctly so we don’t end up with any injuries,” Kiesel said.
Numbers show car seats and booster seats make a difference.
According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) — using the right, properly-installed car seat reduces the risk for injury in a crash by as much as 82% compared to using a seatbelt alone.
CDC numbers also show booster seat use reduces the risk for serious injury by 45% for kids 4-to-8 years old.
St. Peter’s Hospital ambulance EMT Angie Murphy can attest to this — she has seen the impact of car seats and booster seats in vehicle crashes.
“Absolutely it makes a difference in (children’s) lives and just their health in general, absolutely every time,” Murphy said.
However, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHSTA) reports 46% of car seats and booster seats are used incorrectly.
Kiesel can help parents make sure they are not part of that 46%. Kiesel starts out car seat installation appointments by getting to know the car, the car seat, and the child using it.
“Types of misuse we see is that the child has outgrown the seat or they’re not big enough to be in that seat,” Kiesel said.
She reads the car’s manual and the car seat’s manual, and then she begins installing. One of the first things Kiesel does is ensure the seat is secured tightly in the car.
“We always want to make sure they always move less than one-inch side-to-side at the belt path, and we can’t pull them away from the seat more than an inch,” Kiesel said. “That’s number one.”
She also makes sure the seat’s incline is correct for the child’s age, all pieces of the seat are in the safety position and that the child fits properly in the seat.
Appointments take about 30-minutes per car seat, and they’re free, but Kiesel said they are seeing fewer people using the service. Kiesel said she hopes parents reach out with questions and to make sure their car seats are secure.
“We don’t want to have you be ready to get into your vehicle and find that you’re uncomfortable or it's installed incorrectly,” Kiesel said.
Along with car seat help, Kiesel gives parents and caregivers tips to make sure children are snugly and safely secured in their seats. She said it’s important to make sure children are not wearing puffy winter gear when buckled into their seats.
“Loose harnesses is (another misuse), we want them snug,” Kiesel said.
To talk with a technician or set up an appointment, call one of the numbers below, or visit https://cert.safekids.org