Car seat check a critical safety step

California Highway Patrol Officer Erica Elias shows Michele

GILROY
– Excuse local California Highway Patrol officer Erica Elias for
rolling her eyes when hearing stories of babies and young kids
miraculously surviving stomach-turning vehicle accidents.
GILROY – Excuse local California Highway Patrol officer Erica Elias for rolling her eyes when hearing stories of babies and young kids miraculously surviving stomach-turning vehicle accidents.

It’s not that Elias isn’t a believer in the divine, but she’s seen enough accidents to know proper child safety seats are to be thanked for saving the kids’ lives, not acts of God.

“I’ve seen child seats save so many kids,” said Elias, an officer for the Gilroy-Hollister CHP and certified car-seat technician who teaches increasingly popular free classes to local parents on proper child seat use. “But a child seat doesn’t do a whole lot if it’s not properly installed.”

According to Elias, 95 percent of all child safety seats are not installed correctly. That’s why Elias and the CHP offer free inspections and classes to area parents who want to make sure their children are as safe as possible.

Christina Crandall, of Hollister, is one of those parents.

On a recent Wednesday afternoon, Crandall was at Gilroy’s CHP headquarters west of Costco to have Elias inspect the car seat that holds Crandall’s 1-year-old daughter, Caitlin.

Crandall and her husband had recently bought a new Toyota Camry, but when trying to transfer Caitlin’s child seat from their old vehicle they couldn’t get it to fit as well in the new backseat.

Crandall’s husband worked for more than two hours to secure Caitlin’s seat in the Camry, but to no avail.

“We got it fastened fine, but it didn’t seem to fit as well as in the old car,” Crandall said. “I’m glad I came here because I’m learning a lot I would never know about how to adjust the seats. There are some straps I didn’t even know about.”

That’s where Elias comes in.

Showing Crandall some of the lesser-known nuances of the car seat’s many straps and levers, Elias is able to secure Caitlin’s seat in the Crandall’s new car.

Elias then makes sure Crandall absorbed how to make the necessary adjustments and reminds her to continue monitoring the safety seat as Caitlin gains weight.

“The whole idea of the safety seat is based on age and weight,” Elias said. “A child seat is not something you put in once and then take for granted. It takes constant adjustments to your child’s needs. … Not knowing is no excuse – especially for parents who have to deal with the consequences.”

Working for the Gilroy-area CHP the last three years, Elias has seen several roll-over accidents where large vehicles carrying infants are destroyed and major injuries are suffered by the adult passengers. But in nearly every such accident where the child was riding in a properly installed child seat, the child was unharmed, Elias said.

“The seats are really amazing,” said Terry Mayes, CHP spokeswoman who has recently began to help local parents install safety seats because of the overwhelming demand for the inspections. “It’s incredible every time you see a big SUV totaled, sitting on its roof and the infant riding in the backseat is fine.”

Eager to save as many young lives as possible, Elias said she is happy that the CHP’s child-seat program is becoming so popular. Parents from Gilroy, Hollister, San Juan Bautista, Morgan Hill, San Jose, Los Banos and Salinas have made appointments with Elias to ensure the safety of their kids.

Elias says many parents show up with recalled or out-of-date seats and the CHP has recently used up its supply of extra seats. Due to the state’s budget crisis, Elias doesn’t expect the CHP to purchase more seats anytime soon.

“It was nice for the poorer families to offer seats,” she said. “But, of course, this is something you can’t put a price tag on.”

Crandall agrees the 15 minutes she spent with Elias were worthwhile.

“This is something everyone should do, even if you think the seat is already safe,” Crandall said. “I always drive with my bottle of water by me in the front, and I never even thought it could be a dangerous flying object to Caitlin if we got in an accident until (Elias) told me. I feel Caitlin is a lot safer after today.”

That’s exactly what Elias wants to hear.

To make an appointment to have a child safety seat inspected by Elias or another CHP officer call 848-2324. Bilingual services are available.

For more information on government child seat ratings and installation procedures, go to www.nhtsa.dot.gov or safekids.com.

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