DECATUR — When Tracy Mogged brought her son home from the hospital a generation ago, she held him in her arms while her husband drove.
“That's so dangerous,” Mogged said. “We didn't even have car seats then.”
Now, when she drives her grandchildren Morgan McRae, 7, and her little brother Brenner, 3, both kids are firmly secured in car seats. Morgan is petite, and has not yet reached the required height for moving into a booster seat instead. But using a car seat, which the children have done all their lives, is natural to them and they never put up a fuss about it.
The Macon County Health Department recently held a Car Seat Check Event at Kids 'N' Fitness on Southside Drive to help parents and grandparents ensure that their car seats were installed correctly, and were the right size for the child who uses it. Mogged brought Morgan and Brenner along, as instructed, so the certified child passenger safety technicians could see the children in the seats.
When today's grandparents were children, car seats — if the family had them at all — were only there to contain the child, not as protection. A lot of them had toy steering wheels so the child could pretend to drive. The first car seats came out in the 1930s and were only booster seats to allow the child to see out the window, and that style of car seat persisted in one form or another well into the 1960s, according to group Safe Ride 4 Kids.
The first car seats designed for protection didn't come out until 1968 and the first child restraint law was passed in Tennessee in 1979. Laws requiring child restraints weren't in place in all 50 states until 1985.
Illinois' laws require children to use a child restraint until age 8, and to be in a rear-facing child restraint until the age of 2. Children should also ride in the back seat, if possible, until the age of 13.
Andrea Osborne just upgraded the car seats for 3-year-old Jordyn Osborne and Olivia Montez, 10 months. Both are still in rear-facing seats, though Jordyn is close to being big enough to switch to a front-facing seat.
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“I got the seat belt in, but I don't know about the latch system,” Osborne said to the technicians who were checking her seats for her.
She said her kids, like Mogged's grandchildren, have always used a car seat and don't make a fuss about it.
“It's something I'm really particular about,” she said. “It only takes a few seconds to make sure they're buckled and they're safe.”
Emily O'Connell of the Macon County Health Department said statistically, 3 out of 4 car seats are installed incorrectly, which can compromise the safety of the children using them. The vehicle's owner manual and the car seat manual together can help ensure that the seat is installed correctly.
“All car seats come with a manual and all parents need to read it before installing the car seat,” O'Connell said.
While it's best for parents, grandparents, and anyone else who looks after a child to have a car seat of their own installed in the vehicle, the seats can be moved from one vehicle to another, as long as you take care to install it correctly each time.
Another point to consider: car seat expiration dates. A car seat generally expires six years after the date of manufacture, and the expiration date can be found on a label on the side or base of the seat. If buying a used car seat, be sure to check this label. Used seats may be subject to wear and tear, recalls or different standards at the time of manufacture that will make them less safe for your child. Another consideration: more expensive does not necessarily equal more safety. All car seats sold in the United States must meet current standards. A convertible seat which can serve your child through infancy and beyond is a good deal if it's new enough that it won't expire before your child is old enough to move to a booster instead.
The most important thing, O'Connell said, is keeping children secure and safe in a vehicle.
“Make sure the kid is not getting out of their car seat,” she said. “Make sure that if you were to get in a wreck that your child is safe, because if you were to have a child forward-facing and the chest clip is down too low, they could fly out of the car or they could have internal damage.”