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Car Seat Safety: Keeping Kids Safe on the Road

One of the most important jobs you have as a parent is keeping your child safe when riding in a vehicle. Each year, thousands of young children are killed or injured in car crashes. Proper use of car seats helps keep children safe.

But with so many different seats on the market, many parents may find this overwhelming.

Aspirus Keweenaw Hospital and Clinics has a new car seat safety expert dedicated to teaching local parents and caregivers proper car seat installation and use to keep kids safe.

Car seat checks are free and available at two locations: Aspirus Keweenaw Laurium Clinic in Laurium and Aspirus Houghton Clinic in Houghton. To schedule an appointment at either location, call Jenn Jenich-Laplander at 906-337-6541.

In this segment, Jenn Jenich-Laplander, Certified Passenger Safety Technician, shares everything you need to know about car seats and how you can keep your child safe while riding in the car.
Car Seat Safety: Keeping Kids Safe on the Road
Featured Speaker:
Jenn Jenich-Laplander, Certified Passenger Safety Technician
Jenn Jenich-Laplander achieved her National Child Passenger Safety (CPS) Technician Certification from Safe Kids Worldwide in June, after completing an intensive, four-day training program. Safe Kids Worldwide is a global non-profit organization working to prevent childhood injury through research, community outreach, legislative advocacy and media awareness campaigns. As a CPS technician, Jenn is certified to conduct a variety of community outreach activities and car seat checks for parents and caregivers.

Melanie Cole (Host): One of the most important jobs you have as a parent is keeping your child safe when riding in a vehicle. Each year, thousands of young children are killed or injured in car crashes. Proper use of car seats helps keep children safe. But with so many different seats on the market, many parents find this a little overwhelming. Aspirus Keweenaw Hospital and Clinics has a new car seat safety expert dedicated to teaching local parents and caregivers, proper installation and use to keep kids safe in the car. My guest today is Jenn Jenich-Laplander. She is a certified passenger safety technician with Aspirus Health System. Welcome to the show Jenn. So, let’s speak about car seat safety. When should new parents start thinking about car seat safety?

Jenn Jenich-Laplander (Guest): Thanks for having Melanie. So, new parents should think about car seats in their third trimester, picking the best seat for the child and making sure that they have it in the car and ready to go because usually in those last three weeks, you can expect to have a baby fairly soon, so we want you to be ready and have the seat installed for when that time comes.

Melanie: So, if they start looking when they are in their third trimester, boy there is a lot of them on the market and so I want you to give us a little run down on some of the different seats and the accommodations with the seats available and what they really want to be looking for when shopping for a car seat and then we will talk about you know how long rear facing and boosters and all that. But in the meantime, give them some rundown on the seats themselves.

Jenn: So, you don’t have to buy the most expensive car seat. All car seats are crash tested the same. The best car seat for any child is one that fits the child, fits in the vehicle, and is one that the caregiver is going to use correctly every single time that child rides in the vehicle.

Melanie: So, but I mean when they are shopping, and they see some have little bumpery things and some have little squishy things on the – there are additions that you can buy which I know the American Academy of Pediatrics does not recommend. Car seat additions, what do you tell people about that?

Jenn: So, car seat additions are great. They usually keep the baby entertained, but they are not certified. So, something like that is more for the parents or the caregiver to use but really the basic car seat is the best car seat because that child is going to be safe in that car and there is no way that any of those additional pieces can be a projectile in the vehicle in the event of a crash.

Melanie: Is there anything they should avoid when they are shopping for car seats? I mean sometimes people go to you know, garage sales and buy car seats.

Jenn: Right. So, we tell people don’t buy a car seat with an unknown history. But you can buy a used car seat if it is someone that you know because you will know the full crash history. So, buying a car seat from a thrift store or a stranger a lot of times you will see them for sale on eBay or Facebook, we usually tell people to avoid those. Once a car seat has been in a crash, it can be missing parts. It can be expired or it can be broken. So, usually we tell people you can buy the cheapest one out there because it has been crash test standard and the car seat we know is safe.

Melanie: So, then let’s talk about where the baby should be, right from the get go, rear-facing seats in the back seat. Does it matter whether they are behind the driver or the passenger?

Jenn: Really you could check the manufacturer recommendations and then there are recommendations in your car. Basically, the best place for the baby is the middle of the back seat, but a lot of times, that doesn’t happen because you have other children in the car or you have someone that the car seat, the driver’s seat need to be all the way back because they are tall, so basically, the best place is wherever it is convenient for the caregiver to put that child.

Melanie: So, that’s a factor actually isn’t it, the convenience factor of not throwing out our backs trying to reach in the car and put the baby in there.

Jenn: Right.

Melanie: But people are tempted to want to turn the baby around so they can mess with them and keep them happy. So, now let’s talk about recommendations for rear seats facing forward, when does that happen and how long should they keep the baby facing backwards?

Jenn: Sure, so it is recommended that children should stay rear facing until at least two years old or they meet the highest weight limit for the seat of that child or the child’s head is one inch from the top of shell of the seat. Rear facing car seats offer the best protection for a child. It protects the child’s head and neck and spine during a crash and we want to be able to give that baby, their bones, enough time in their neck as much as possible to get strong and be able to restrain the head and protect the spinal column in the event of a crash. When we do turn a child rear-facing to forward facing, after they meet that two years or the highest weight of the seat, they are a little bit less likely to be I guess they are less likely to have the unrestrained movement in the car, so they are harnessed in there but they don’t have the best restraint. Keeping them backwards is the best way.

Melanie: So, at what age, because some people now Jenn, say oh well it’s age dependent, but some people say oh no, it’s size dependent and some people say it is weight dependent. Now in my situation, and I have two teenaged children now, but they were both very little and I kept them in car seats and then booster seats well till they were like 11 and 12 years old because they were little and I was looking at height and weight. What do you want to tell people is the most important thing to look at when deciding to turn their children around facing front and when do you move from that car seat into the booster seat?

Jenn: So, we do recommend that children stay rear facing until they are two years old. If you do move your child forward facing; make sure that they are harnessed correctly because that is what is keeping your child safe in a crash. Children should stay in the back seat until they are at least 13. Once you move from a forward-facing car seat to a booster seat, children enter booster seats when they reach the highest weight and height allowed by their forward-facing car seat. And so, children should remain in at least a booster seat until they reach 4 feet 9 inches, which is usually between the ages of 8 and 12 years old.

Melanie: So, you have to look at the manufacturer’s recommendations and that’s how you kind of get that going. Now, tell us about your car seat safety passenger safety technician, the clinic and tell us about what you are doing to help people with proper installation to keep kids safe.

Jenn: So, families and caregivers can give me a call. I can check the car seats that are currently in your seat to make sure that they aren’t recalled, that they don’t have anything wrong with them and that they are properly installed so that your children are safe. If you have a new car seat and you are unsure of how it should go in your car, I can help with that as well.

Melanie: So, I’m just – we have a minute or two left so I would like to ask you about a few myths that people wonder about. What if the baby slouches down or to the side in their car seat. Do you keep readjusting them or does that mean that their seat belt is not tight enough?

Jenn: So, we want the harness to be tight enough where you can’t pinch at the shoulders. It is called the pinch test. If you can grab slack in that harness, you need to tighten the harness up. If your baby is small, most car seats start at five pounds, if your baby is a smaller baby, you can roll receiving blankets on the side of the baby to keep them in there and their head straight. But mainly, that harness will keep that baby in there as long as it is tight enough and in the proper spot for that baby.

Melanie: What if someone has a smaller car Jenn, and if the baby’s feet touch the back of vehicle seat, if they are forward facing?

Jenn: So, if a baby is forward facing a lot of times, you will see kids that are kicking the back seat or their feet touch the back seat and that sometimes a concern for parents because in the event of a crash, they are afraid you know their child’s leg will break. We do ask that the seat is at least one inch from where that child is in the car. So, if you can keep it one inch from where their feet are, that’s probably the safest.

Melanie: Now, what about things that the babies wear, because you know, certainly in the wintertime, you are in Wisconsin, we are in Chicago. In the wintertime, you know we dress our babies up in these suits and these you know big huge coats, but that’s not always the safest way to be in a car seat, is it?

Jenn: Right, so winter jackets and snow suits, we ask that you do not use them. I know that’s hard to believe in the cold winter months. But when one of those items whether it is a winter jacket or a puffy snowsuit and they are worn in the car seats, they don’t compress in a crash and they don’t allow the tight harness around the child. So, what you can do is jackets and snowsuits can go on backwards after you harness the baby in and then you can put them upside down or backwards and a lot of times, you will see infant carrier covers, you can use those as well to keep baby warm. We ask that you use the shower cap type that go right over the frame of the car seat and then you can always use a blanket to cover your child all year round.

Melanie: So, now once we get into the booster seat situation, what’s the difference between the high back and backless boosters? Is there a difference and where should the seat belt sit on the child?

Jenn: So, really the difference is dependent on the caregiver what they like to see. Seatbelts are definitely something that all parents should be aware of. Seatbelts should be worn correctly to be used properly so what we say is make sure the lap belt sits correctly across the thighs and make sure it is comfortable and that it is not up on the tummy. And make sure that your child is not slouching when you put that seatbelt in. We always say tell every driver that transports your child, once they are in the booster or in the back seat, that the child must wear the seatbelt at all times. When installed and used correctly car seat and safety belts are the best thing to prevent injuries and save lives.

Melanie: So, last question about airbags. When the child you said you know until they are at least twelve or thirteen years old and they move to the front seat, that’s when I’m nervous because there is those airbags and even those little thirteen year old faces are not strong enough to withstand the pressure of that airbag. What do you tell parents about trying to keep those kids in the back seat, I mean until they are driving themselves?
Jenn: So, what we tell parents is if your vehicle is able to turn off the airbag, you can turn that airbag off on the passenger side. A lot of times I hear parents say I have to bribe my child to sit in the back seat so they either get TV time if they have a TV or DVD player or I give them my cellphone. I tell parents and caregivers whatever you have to do, whether you have to bribe that child or let them have a little screen time, the safest place is in the back seat and basically being honest with your child helps with that, telling them you know, I we ever were to get in a crash, you will be safest if you are in that back seat.

Melanie: That’s really good advice. Thank you so much Jenn, for being with us today. And if people would like more information on car seat safety, and the clinic with Aspirus Keweenaw Hospital and Clinics, you can visit That’s You’re listening to Aspirus Health Talk. This is Melanie Cole. Thanks so much for listening.