Child restraint usage in Georgia vehicles has risen during the past five years, but officials estimate nearly 100 percent of child restraint seats are used incorrectly.
“Having a seat in the car and using it correctly are two different things,” said Andrew Turnage, the child passenger safety coordinator at The University of Georgia’s Georgia Traffic Injury Prevention Institute.
Turnage and B.J. Kennedy-Leopold, the Southeast law enforcement liaison for the Governor’s Office of Highway Safety, spent most of the week working to reverse those statistics by teaching proper child restraint to six Richmond County deputies and several other students in a class.
After passing the class, the students become certified child passenger safety technicians.
On Friday, they will use the skills learned during the class to offer free child seat safety inspections to the public.
Richmond County sheriff’s Lt. Lewis Blanchard said the decision to train deputies on proper child restraint came after an alarming number of child restraint issues were discovered during Operation Thunder. Police recorded 488 citations for improper child seat usage during the three-month police operation.
Blanchard said they were seeing small children not in seats, in seats but not buckled in, and even in vehicles that had child safety seats but who were not in them at all.
“We are taking a proactive approach of partnering with others in an effort to have highly trained officers and provide free training and inspections for the citizens of Richmond County,” Sheriff Richard Roundtree said in a news release.
In a classroom filled with dolls in various child safety seats, Kennedy-Leopold demonstrated the importance of using child seats correctly by showing a video of the difference between a correct and incorrect installation.
Too many times, she said, she has seen a child with “internal decapitation” as a result of improper seat usage.
“When you’re talking to parents, you need to make sure to tell them (the babies) need to stay rear-facing as long as possible,” she said.
Kennedy-Leopold said parents use an excuse of turning their children around to forward-facing seats so they can see them better, but a switch too soon can mean the difference between life and death in a crash.
Also, parents often aren’t aware that child seats have an expiration date – usually six years after manufacture. Some seats that have been damaged by a crash or by weather can falter much sooner.
“You never want to buy a child restraint from a Goodwill or a place like that,” she said. “You don’t know its history.”
Turnage said that just 20 minutes or so of reading the owner’s manual for the child restraint and the vehicle could improve a child’s odds but that most parents fail to do it.
Blanchard said the sheriff’s office hopes to begin educating the community through the inspections Friday. In the future, it hopes to have more events and work with other agencies to provide free seats to families that can’t afford one.
“Our goal is to save lives and keep our children safe, so anything we can do beforehand in an effort to be part of the solution is something we are glad to be a part of,” said Lt. Ramone Lamkin, the commander of the sheriff’s office’s traffic division.