free car seat inspections in Tampa Bay

How to book a free or low cost car seat inspection in Tampa Bay

We don’t have to tell you…installing a car seat can get complicated. But doing it correctly is vital to your child’s safety in the event of a crash and, unfortunately, the numbers show that many of us are doing it wrong when it comes to installing our child’s car seat.

As kids get ready to head back to school, this is a great time to check if their seats are installed correctly and if they’re ready to upgrade to a new seat.

In fact, a study by AAA and the National Safety Council revealed:

  • 52% of car seats inspected by Child Passenger Safety technicians are improperly installed and used.
  • 73% of forward-facing car seats are incorrectly installed.
  • 90% of children using adult lap-and-shoulder safety belts under the age of 10 should still be in a car or booster seat.

There is some good news. There are free and inexpensive resources available right here in Tampa Bay to help ensure your child’s car seat is correctly installed. We recently interviewed Michelle Sterling with Safe Kids Greater Tampa Bay and BayCare to learn more about how families can take advantage of their car seat services and to learn more about the program.

First–for those not familiar with Safe Kids, what exactly does the organization do for families?

Michelle Sterling: Safe Kids is a worldwide coalition—what we do is injury prevention for children, so within our community, we focus on the highest of our needs. Any type of injury prevention for kids that we can find, so we have home safety, pedestrian safety, bicycle safety, we do a lot of water safety—as you know, it’s all around us—child passenger safety…anything that we can do to help keep kids from getting hurt…

So, St Joseph’s Children’s Hospital is the lead within the agency so in the coalitions—there’s an agency that takes on to be the lead and we’ve had the Safe Kids here for 30 years.

With our coalition, we work with partner agencies throughout Hillsborough County that all have the same mission.

We work together to provide events at a larger scale.

How can parents take advantage of the car seat inspections offered by Safe Kids?

Michelle Sterling: Car seat inspection appointments are available online at at a variety of locations Hillsborough County for $10.

We provide free ones at the Children’s Board Family Resource Centers and there are seven of them in Hillsborough County and with those, they would just call our office and they would call and make an appointment for a day when we are already there teaching one of our free classes.

Are there income limits for inspections?

Michelle Sterling:  Not on inspections, but there are on classes.

Do the recent numbers from the studies by AAA and National Safety Council seem about right for what you see locally in Tampa Bay when inspecting car seats?

Michelle Sterling:  Almost all of the time there is something wrong. Once in a while, I’ll have that dad that did everything right, but there are a lot of cases where we see it installed incorrectly, it might not be the right seat for the vehicle and also it might not be the right seat for the child.

When car seat shopping, the most expensive isn’t the best, right?

Michelle Sterling: I always tell them you want to make sure it’s the best fit for your child, and also the fit for your vehicle because every vehicle is different. One seat might fit in my vehicle, but might not fit in my husband’s vehicle -you just want to make sure the seat fits correctly.

What’s the most common mistake you see parents make with their child’s car seat?

Michelle Sterling: I would say the most common mistake is turning their child from rear-facing to forward-facing too soon. They need to be rear-facing until they are at least two, the longer the better. A lot of times parents will say, they wanted to look outside, look out front, and no…they didn’t. You wanted them to. They don’t know any better.

Another thing is they say their feet are crisscrossing against the back of the seat and we tell them, that’s okay. Their spine is still developing so we want to make sure they are safer rear-facing and for as long as possible.

In an accident or if you have to stop abruptly, that rear-facing, the seat cradles the child so their spine is not taking the impact and not thrusting them forward.

There are different stages of car seats. Do you find parents move their child out of a booster seat too soon?

Michelle Sterling: We want to keep them in a booster until they are at least 4’9 which is generally –there’s not even an age range because I’m 5’2, but we just want to make sure when you put them in a seat belt and they are sitting without a booster seat that their feet are able to make a correct L over the seat and their feet are touching the ground. You don’t want their feet dangling in the air or not able to put their feet on the ground. The reason is that generally, the location of the seat belt is going over their hip bone and their collar bone. Generally, f they are too little, vehicles are not designed for children, so if they’re too little the seat belt is going into their neck and the soft part of their stomach.

What age is best for moving to a booster seat?

Michelle Sterling: Follow the height and weight limit. Generally, it’s about 5 years old before you would put them in a booster seat.

What other safety issues have you seen?

Michelle Sterling: One thing we do see is sometimes children are in the front seat. We want to keep them in the backseat where there is not an airbag that’s going to come out and potentially harm them, so the general rule is 13th birthday is when they get to go to the front seat.

Another thing that is a little scary that we see is heat stroke. We want to make sure we are leaving ourselves a reminder so when we are out of normal routine, maybe we are tired, we’re exhausted, we are always checking that backseat. The government has regulated that new vehicles have to have a reminder, but not everybody has a new vehicle so there are things you can do to make sure you are checking the back seat every single time.

Maybe put your purse in the back seat, take your left shoe-you don’t need your left shoe—take it off and throw it in the back seat and when you get to where you’re going, that’s the first foot that hits the ground, so you’re automatically going to get your shoe out of the back. Another thing, put your phone in the back. You don’t need your phone to drive. Just some type of reminder to always look in the back because it can happen to anybody.

Another thing—we don’t want to use our car seats as a place for our babies to sleep for a period of time. They’re not safe and they’re not designed for that. Make sure we’re only using it to drive—if they fall asleep in the car, that’s fine, but when we’re at home, we’re not using our car seat to sleep in.

Does Safe Kids provide free car seats to those in need?

Michelle Sterling: We provide car seats through car seat classes that we teach at Children’s Board Family Resource Centers, they get the education piece on how to install a variety of car seats and then we provide them with a convertible car seat and also they go out to their vehicles and they practice putting it in—we have a car seat technician that’s there just to make sure it’s all installed correctly.

The title Car Seat Technician is one that is earned.

Michelle Sterling: It’s an intense 40-hour course and we have to renew our skills and so many other continuing education units we have to do every two years.

*Image credit: iStock by Getty Images monkeybusinessimages

Connect with your regional Safe Kids coalition: