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How safe is your car seat?

In the Spring my husband was in a collision with two of our kids. I had no idea that car seats that didn't seem damaged in a collision needed to be replaced, especially not the one that sat empty. Rae gave me some great advice and I asked her to share some car seat safety tips with us here. Thanks Rae! ~Lara by Rae

You know, I've worked in the baby industry for almost a decade, though babies have always made my brain go a little silly and squishy.

I became a car seat technician in 2004 - more about that later. Let's go back to 2002:  We were 20, in university and didn't have a car. We were really mad that you had to leave the hospital via car with a car seat! We had no local family, and just took the bus everywhere.  Thus it became that we had a car seat for L (a bucket seat) that we used for other people's cars.  I had read the manual, but I was never quite sure I was doing it right.

When we got our first car, L was 14 months old. We got a new seat for the new car as she was forward facing (according to the 2002 standard). It was an all black Alpha Omega 3 in 1. It was the best bang for our buck.  I stored the bucket seat in the basement because I knew that we wanted a second baby.

Because having a car seat is mandated by law, I thought for sure there would be a place to have our installation checked.  At that time, the city of Ottawa ran inspections by appointment with a couple of firehalls. The list was always months long. I called A channel and complained loudly.

Sandra Blakie came to see us and did a lovely story. Alas less than 6 months later the city stopped doing it. I have heard many a tale of fire fighters that still do it, though their certifications are long out of date.

I was friends in University with the now Executive Director of Seats for Kids. We talked at length about my complaints and she convinced me to become a technician with her group.  I didn't even know such a position existed, but wanted to learn more! The night after my course, I went home and fixed my car seat.

Since then I have become an instructor in my own right, and now teach other people what I know.

I could tell you a lot of funny or horrible things I've seen since 2003, but instead I'll tell you the most important things you NEED to know about car seats:

1. The best car seat on the market is the one that fits your child and your car appropriately, and that you can use correctly.  What fit in your sisters 2002 car, may not fit in your 2003, or your respective children!

2. Snug is safe! Your car seat should not move more than an inch side to side at the belt path. Don't just jiggle the seat. Try to push or pull it firmly side to side to check.  Your child should also be snug.  This means no bulky coats, bunting bags or swaddling between them and the harness. Dress your child comfortably, buckle the harness and then put blankets or their coat over them.  You want the harness to always be one finger tight at the collar bone, and for the chest clip to be level with the armpits!

3. Projectiles. Look around your car. In a collision what is going to fly around? Everything. Purse, coffee cup, snow brush, lap dog (get a harness for your friend! Seat belts save!), toys, and everything else that isn't secured is going to hit things and people. Keep it in the trunk/get a cargo cover/minimize what you keep in the car!

4. Used Car Seats: please don't buy or use a car seat you are not intimately familiar with the history of even if there is a yellow sheet with a legal blurb and a signature saying it's fine or even if it came from your sister's husbands aunt. You can never guarantee it hasn't been dropped, or in a collision. It's also possible the seat could be expired or have a public notice.

5. Car seats are single user and single collision item. If there is damage to your vehicle you need a new car seat. If you drop a seat from 3' you need a new one - that's a collision. Your insurance will likely cover car seats. Confirm with your broker! If you settle outside of insurance, ask that the seat(s) be replaced.

6. Last but not least. Car seats are for cars and babies are for arms. Car seats have evolved, but they still keep newborns at 40-45 degrees so that they can both breathe and sleep in cars.  45 degrees for long periods is hard on little bodies and studies are starting to show flat head syndrome and SIDS on the rise as we carry our babies more in car seats than caresses. Use a sling, snuggly, Bjorn, wrap, whatever - just leave the car seat in the car!

I bet most that read this are checking their car seats shortly after. If you are not sure about your install or the age of your seat, Ottawa has some great resources:

Seats for Kids (SeatsforKidscanada.com) - a not for-profit, volunteer group that hosts 1-2 clinic per month. They ask for a donation of $20 for paper printing and water costs. Their clinics fill very quickly. They also teach courses once a month!

Ottawa public health runs a phone line and can help you find resources for a car seat if you need financial help. The city of Ottawa no longer offers inspection services in any form.

And then there's me! I'm kind of a Jill of all trades. When I left the insurance world in 2010 I decided to throw all the skills I had on to the table and start Chartreuse Industries.  To promote our Car Seat Inspection services, I'll be giving away 5 free inspections* valued at $30 each. Leave a comment to qualify. Extra entries for following @chartreuseindus on Twitter or liking their Facebook page.  Contest closes Wednesday October 12 at 5 pm.

85-90% of people have their seat installed or use it incorrectly. I hope we can correct yours!

*the fine print:

All winners must have their seat inspection performed by appointment at the Chartreuse Offices (Fisher/Meadowlands). One seat inspection per family. Additional seats will be charged at regular $30 rate.

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