By Dennis Collins
Today is the first day of Spring Break for many of the local Washington, D.C. area school systems, and many families will take advantage of the time off school to take a trip and enjoy the spring weather, particularly after the winter we’ve had! As you head out to visit family or relax, make sure your children are traveling as safely as possible by having them travel in an age-appropriate, properly installed car seat.
Car seats can be confusing; I remember not knowing if I’d done it right when I went to install my first car seat shortly before the birth of my first child. Like all parents and caregivers, I wanted to be sure that my child was as safe as could be. I was confused and unsure, and those instructions were no help at all! Fortunately, my local police department offered free help provided by trained car seat personnel. One of those trained officers showed me how to install my car seat properly, taught me how to make sure my daughter was in the seat correctly, and explained what to do if I needed to move the seat to another vehicle. I left the police station knowing my daughter’s first ever car ride would be as safe as I could make it.
This sparked my interest in Child Passenger Safety; eventually, I took training class to become a certified Child Passenger Safety Technician (CPST) and underwent additional training and testing to be certified as a Child Passenger Safety Technician Instructor (CPST-I), enabling me to teach others to become certified technicians. I’ve been certified now for more than ten years and plan to remain certified for many more.
Staying certified is a lot of work. I have to teach, complete continuing education, and install a certain number of seats to stay certified. Why do I do it? Simple – I enjoy helping parents and caregivers do the best they can to keep their children safe. Volunteering as an EMT and my career as an investigator for the NTSB has taught me our roadways and highways can be dangerous and unpredictable. Weather, road conditions, and distracted, tired, and impaired drivers can result in our being involved in an accident through no fault of our own. I’ve seen the consequences of improperly restrained or unrestrained children and can tell you it’s far better to prevent an injury or reduce its severity than to try to fix it after it happens.
So, as you head out this week to have fun or relax, take a second to look at how your children ride in the car. Be sure they’re in the correct seat for their age and that the seat is installed correctly. If you’re not sure, need help, or just want someone to double-check, there are CPSTs and CPST-Is standing ready to help. Call your local police and/or fire department or visit safercar.gov to find a technician or inspection station near you. Travel safe!
Dennis Collins is a Senior Accident Investigator in the NTSB’s Office of highway Safety and a certified Child Passenger Safety Technician Instructor.