Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

It's Easy to Think Kids' Car Seats Are Safe When They're Not

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

It's Easy to Think Kids' Car Seats Are Safe When They're Not

Article excerpt

For Susie McShea, car-seat safety has become an obsession.

At work -- she is a neonatal nurse at West Penn Hospital -- she is the car-seat enforcer.

In her free time, she volunteers at car-seat safety checkpoints. McShea knows how easy it is to think your children are safe and secure when they're not.

She used to be so cocky about her own kids' car seats. She had three children and two car seats when she took the AAA car-seat training in 2002. She was already on the car-seat task force at work and was sure that everything was just fine.

It wasn't, as McShea learned when her seats were checked as part of her 40 hours of training. One had been installed without the tether strap. The other seat was expired and had been recalled.

Expired?

It turns out that car seats shouldn't be used after six years. The manufacture date is stamped on the sticker with the serial number. They expire because the plastic and the straps can get worn and cracked, and the designs change enough that the seats should be replaced after six years.

"I was shocked," McShea said about finding out that her own children hadn't been secured in their seats properly.

In the two years since that training, she has been working as a volunteer at car-seat safety check points. She's also developed a habit of peering into strangers' cars to inspect their car seats.

"It's a sickness," she said. Now thoroughly infected, she found herself volunteering in Forest Hills on a 90-degree afternoon. As part of this story, I wanted to have my children's car seats checked, too.

"It's a wonder we survived," said Darla Johnson, 39, of Wilkins, who was born long before states started to mandate the use of child safety seats in the 1980s. She was at the Woodland Hills Emergency Medical Service station on May 13 to have her daughters' car seats checked. When she was a child: "my mom used to lay me on the seat while I was sleeping. We didn't have a car seat."

Johnson's seats were in fairly well, though her 10-month-old daughter, Ericka, had been sitting at an unsafe angle. Three-year- old Abigayle had been riding just fine.

The car-seat check was supposed to run from 4 to 7 p.m., but the first car arrived at 3:20 and the volunteers from Team Educators for Child Safety, Allegheny County, the Forest Hills Police and the SAFE KIDS campaign stayed until 8:30 checking out the last car. More than 20 seats were taken out of vehicles, inspected and reinstalled. Most of them had problems with the original installation.

Many vehicles, like the minivan owned by Pat Costello, 42, of Forest Hills, had two car seats. Costello, the father of four ranging in age from 9 years to 7 months, wound up with a new car seat for his 2-year-old son, Patrick Jr., because his seat had been manufactured in 1993.

As part of this story, I wanted to have my children's car seats checked, too. …

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