Most child car seats not installed properly, says IWK safety expert

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A car seat safety expert says that while most people think they’re installing the seats properly in their vehicles, most aren’t, and the people who need the most help are newcomers coming from cultures where car seats aren’t commonly used.

Katherine Hutka, who works with the IWK’s Child Safety Link program in Halifax, said research shows in Canada that collisions are a leading cause of death in children under 14. She said a properly used seat can reduce the risk of injury and death by as much as 70 per cent.

Hutka said there are several reasons why newcomers may struggle with installing the seats.

“They may not have seatbelt laws,” she said. “This is maybe a new thing for them.”

Over the years, she’s seen straps that were cut, tied, or car seats wedged between the two front seats.

Iman Al-Assadi’s son, Mohammed Suliman, is strapped into his car seat after it was examined by a safety expert. The straps were too loose before the adjustment. (Carolyn Ray/CBC)

Iman Al-Assadi is one of those parents who said learning about the proper use of car seats was eye-opening. She moved to Halifax from Iraq, and didn’t know where to begin when she bought a car seat for her son.

Al-Assadi said the instruction book was hard to understand because the language wasn’t clear and didn’t easily translate into Arabic.

“I was looking on YouTube to figure out how to put the car seat in the car,” she said.

Hutka’s inspection found the seat for Al-Assadi’s now two-month-old son needed to be tightened, while another seat she wanted to use simply didn’t fit in the vehicle.

Al-Assadi is now working as a translator at the Bayers Westwood Family Resource Centre in Halifax to help other newcomers understand how car seats work.

Key inspection points

There are a few key things that Hutka looks for when she examines a car seat. First, it needs to be tightly attached to the vehicle.

“We don’t want to be able to move it more than an inch front to back, side to side where it’s attached to the car,” said Hutka.

If it’s a forward-facing seat, the top tether needs to be used. Hutka then checks to make sure the harness is snug on the child.

One of the most common problems, she said, is that children are both rushed into a booster seat, then graduate out of it before they’re ready.

Booster problems

“We know that children are being moved into a booster seat before they’re legally able to do so at 40 pounds, we also know that children are moving out of a booster seat much too quickly as well,” she said.

Hutka knows it can be overwhelming for new parents to figure out the nuts and bolts of a car seat, so she said a great place to start is at a family resource centre.

She said nearly every resource centre in Atlantic Canada has a trained car seat technician who can check the seats.

If a child is born at the IWK in Halifax, a nurse chats with the family before they leave to talk about car seat safety, but they don’t go out to the vehicle.

Toronto study to look at car seat installations

Hutka hopes that a new study at the SickKids Hospital in Toronto could shed light on how widespread the problem of improperly installed car seats is.

Hutka went to Toronto in July to train 12 research assistants at SickKids who will look into how children are transported into the emergency department.

“We have heard from some emergency room physicians who have concerns about the way children are transported,” she said. “They’re really invested in injury prevention because they see the results of those injuries.”

Hutka is hopeful the SickKids study could eventually lead to changes in how new parents are taught to use car seats effectively.



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