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Gibson Area Hospital staff members Katie Cornish and Tanya Windle check out the installation of a car seat in this file photo. Starting in January, children under 2 will be required to sit rear facing in the car. 

DECATUR — Outreach is planned to educate motorists about a new state law requiring that children under 2 ride in rear-facing child-restraint seats. 

“I agree with it 100 percent,” said Macon County Sheriff’s Deputy Seth Major. “It is going to save kids lives and prevent major injuries to the head, neck and spinal chord, so I think it is a great thing.”

The law goes into effect Jan. 1. The fine is $75 for a first-time violation and $200 the second time. 

“It is going to be a learning curve there for a while to educate the public that the law came into effect,” Major said. “It won’t necessarily (mean we) pull someone over give them a citation immediately.”

Officers are trained to explain the changes and to educate people about how to keep their child safe, Major said. These interactions will be a chance to help people understand the best way to restrain a child and the proper car seat they should be using, he said.

The law is in line with the recommendations the agency has been following, Major said.

“The representatives are starting to see this was something that needed to be passed to protect kids,” he said.

Major said he's available through the Macon County Sheriff’s Office to check the installation of car seats. They can call the office and he will check their seat to make sure it will keep a child safe.

“We don't install the car seat, but we give education and advice on the proper installation,” he said.

Safekids.org also lists car seat check events and general car safety for kids, he said.

The changes to the Child Passenger Protection Act say that a child can be in a front-facing car seat until the age of 4 and then they can sit in a booster seat until age eight. A child who weighs 80 pounds or is taller than four feet nine inches can ride in the car with only a seatbelt.

Children weighing more than 40 pounds or taller than 40 inches are exempt under the legislation, which GOP Gov. Bruce Rauner signed into law earlier this month. 

“It is a good thing,” said Kerri Fish, an official with the Child Care Resource & Referral Network, which connects caregivers with resources. “Kids and young children that travel rear facing are much safer.”

Fish facilitates checks for the Macon County Health Department. Before the law was signed, having kids under 2 use a rear-facing seat was just a suggestion, Fish said. It protects the head, neck and spine of the child in a collision. 

“That is why we want to keep the youngest most vulnerable kids rear-facing longer,” she said.

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Fish said everyone who drives a child should get their seat checked. It is a complicated procedure and people need assistance, she said.

“What we found is four out of five car seats are installed incorrectly,” Fish said. “Have it checked by a technician to make sure they are using it correctly.”

Fish said people are thankful when they get the car seat installed correctly. Many people make common simple errors, she said.

“When we see misuse in car seats in one or two areas harnessing of the child and the installation into the vehicle,” she said.

The problem is that the car seat moves too much, which can leave the child unsafe in the case of an accident. They may not be restrained appropriately, or they may even be ejected from the vehicle, Fish said.

The health department provides a monthly check on the seats for anyone who drives children around in vehicles. The facilitators ensure the seats are installed correctly and that the child is riding in the proper seat prescribed by state law, said Carol Carlton, clinical nursing services director.

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The proper car seat is dictated by the weight, height and age of the child, Carlton said. A child must sit in a car seat or booster seat until the age of 8 under the law. This is to ensure that their seat belt is in the correct location, Carlton said.

“If they have their seat, they should bring the seat and the child with them,” she said. “The whole point is there are so many seats and cars so you need to learn how it works.”

Seats expire because of the time they spend in the heat and in the cold, Carlton said. The seats are also recalled, so this is checked as well. The car seat check takes 45 minutes because it is extensive and there is a form that must be completed.

“Lots of times people are surprised that they don’t have (the car seat) right,” she said. “It is not an easy thing.”

There is funding available for low-income people to receive a car seat, Carlton said. People who are eligible for the special supplemental nutrition program for women, infants, and children, or WIC, can also receive the car seat for a $20 donation.

“Funding is limited, and that is why we try to take a donation but there isn't a lot of money out there for that,” Carlton said.

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Contact Claire Hettinger at (217) 421-6985. Follow her on Twitter: @ClaireHettinger

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Public Safety Reporter

Public safety reporter for the Herald & Review.

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