Effective in January 2003, Maine law requires that all children from birth to 8 years old must ride in a federally approved child restraint system. Children who are younger than 12 years old or weigh less than 100 pounds, must sit in the back seat, if possible, and everyone traveling in a vehicle must wear seat belts.

Despite this new law in Maine, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that 94 percent of all kids who should be riding in booster seats are not.

With 90 percent of all car seats being used incorrectly and even more children not using them all, it isn’t surprising that motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of injury and death for children in Maine.

The most common mistake made by families using a child restraint system, according to Suzanne Cook, Safe Communities Coalition Coordinator, is that seat belts and harness straps are too loose or are twisted.

“Parents are convinced they are in the 10 percent using their seats correctly, but in reality most are not. It doesn’t matter how many children you have had or how often you have used a car seat, everyone needs a Car Seat Safety Inspection,” Cook said.

She has received extensive training to become a Child Passenger Safety Technician and is certified by the Bureau of Highway Safety to help families use and install their car seats and booster seats.

To help families learn how to use their child restraint system properly in their car and with their child, parents and children can attend a free Car Seat Safety Check. A certified Child Passenger Safety Technician will make sure the seat is right for a child’s size and is installed properly.

“Nearly every car seat inspection shows critical errors, which may be deadly,” Cook said.

Car Seat Safety Checks only take about 30 minutes, are free and can help make sure child passengers will be safe and secure.

“There are certain things children must learn to accept for their own safety – and buckling up is one of them. We have developed the following hints for parents to help them,” said Jeff Mathews, director of Automotive Safety Program at the Riley Hospital for Children in Indianapolis.

• Start early and be consistent: From a infant’s trip home from the hospital to a quick trip to the grocery store, be sure to use the car seat/booster seat/seat belt for every trip.

• Set an example: Parents should always use a seat belt and make sure everyone in the vehicle is buckled up before you leave the driveway.

• Check the fit: Car seats and children change. Make sure the car seat/booster seats are the right size and type for your child. They should be secure, snug and comfortable. Always follow the manufacturer’s instructions.

• Give them a view: Choose a child safety seat that allows your child to see the countryside, other cars and trucks and people. For infants in backwards-facing seats, tape colorful pictures to the seat back.

• Be firm: Don’t move the car until everyone is buckled in properly. If children try to get out of their seats, pull over and stop the car.

• Explain why: Explain to the child how safety belts help keep them secure in a crash. Remind your children that you want everyone to buckle up because you love them and want to protect them from being hurt.

• Recognize their efforts: Remember to praise children when they stay safely secured in their seats. This encouragement will help to establish and reinforce safe habits.

Car seat safety checks

Auburn Police Department, 1 Minot Ave., Auburn, 782-5437, second Monday of the month.

Child Health Center, 625 Court St., Auburn, 782-5437, by appointment.

Community Concepts, 79 Main St., Auburn, 795-6073, 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Monday through Friday.

Community Concepts, 19 Market Square, South Paris, 743-6905, by appointment.

Community Concepts, 124 Main St., Farmington, 779-0594, 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Monday through Friday.

Franklin Chrysler,484 Wilton Road, Farmington, 778-9500, by appointment.

Rumford Fire Department, 151 Congress St., Rumford, 782-5437, fourth Thursday of the month.

For more information or to make an appointment, please call ahead.

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