SEBRING - Does it really matter if Baby's car seat faces the front of the car or the back? Can Grandma safely hold a 2-year old in her lap? Should 5-year-old Bubba, who hates his booster, be allowed to sit on the seat like a big boy?
Yes, no and no, Florida Department of Health in Highlands County officials told parents Wednesday at a car seat instructional class.
Years ago, 95 to 98 percent of child car seats were incorrectly installed. These days, it's only three out of every four, said Maryanne Higgins. She, Deb Garrison and Deb Alvarez tag teamed for a 1.5 hour class.
"We had to go to a four-day class to learn how to do this," Higgins said. "I guess I'm grateful I never had a wreck in my car."
Two children die every day and 300 are injured because they aren't properly belted inside the vehicle.
"Parents get a false sense of security," Higgins said.
Job one for every seat belt is to keep the occupant in the car, Higgins said. But they also keep occupants - including children - from crashing forward into the windshield or dash.
The seat belt's task is easier for an adult: it wraps amid the collar bone and ribs, down to a hip bone, and crosses to the other hip bone. The key, Alvarez said, is that bones absorb the impact, not the vital organs in the midsection, which aren't protected by bones.
Improperly installed, a forward-facing car seat allows the infant to pitch forward. Since babies haven't developed neck muscles, the result could be paralysis or death.
If the seat faces the rear, however, the infant rides the seat upwards, then back down without that significant snap of a front-impact collision. Seats should be turned to face the front when the child is two years old. The old standard was one year, she said.
Seats should also be adjusted to the child, Garrison said. A child's head should not rise above the seat.
"It seems like it's a simple thing to do," Garrison said, but every car is different, and every car seat installs differently. Some seats buckle in, some rachet in, some seat belts twist through the top of the car seat. Properly belted, the car seat should not move more than one inch.
Always read the instructions on the seat, Garrison cautioned. Some recommend different weights of children. Some high-back booster seats are too big for infants and toddlers.
When should children be allowed to ride without a car seat? The test is whether their legs are long enough to bend at the knee. Children who have to sit with their legs straight should be in car seats.
Although the shoulder harness may cut uncomfortably across the child's neck, don't allow the child to move the belt behind their back, Garrison said.
It's not a good idea to buy safety seats at a garage sale, Alvarez said. Plastic deteriorates more quickly in the Florida heat, and seats that were in a crash may not perform as well the second time. Also, older car seats may have been recalled. Higgins held up a clipboard full of recalled car seats.