After hearing about a recent child car seat inspection event where 100 percent of the car seats inspected were either improperly installed, recalled or deemed unsafe, Lisa Gottman, 44, of Bowie pulled into a site on Crain Highway to have her 11-month-old daughter’s car seat checked out Wednesday when Prince George’s police were holding their latest round of free inspections.
“When I found out that so many seats were installed incorrectly I thought, ‘There are so many kids out there unsafe,’” she said, referencing the importance of keeping her own daughter, Rita, safe. “She is so precious. I don’t want her to die from one incorrectly installed car seat.”
After her 30-minute inspection, her seat was found correctly installed and in safe condition, but according to police, Gottman’s case is an anomaly.
Since beginning car seat inspections in mid-2011, police said they find that at nearly every inspection event at least 90 percent of the seats are deemed unsafe.
Inspectors said the troubling statistics stem from a variety of issues including parents struggling with complicated installation instructions and parents taking hand-me-down car seats that are outdated or expired.
“There’s such a wide variety of seats and instructions may not be clear, and sometimes parents just don’t read them. We go through a full inspection and we’re not going to put it in for them the right way. We teach them to do it to empower them,” said inspector Tracy Whitman of Kids in Safety Seats, a statewide nonprofit that aims to reduce the number of child fatalities and injuries in vehicle crashes through education and training.
Two children have been killed in vehicle crashes in Maryland as the result of unsafe car seats in 2013, said Joyce Beck, a community outreach specialist for county police. Numbers for 2012 were not immediately available.
“Just one is way too many,” said Beck. “A lot of what this is doing is educating.”
County police have worked with Kids in Safety Seats to help provide free car seat checks several times per month, said Cpl. David Redmond, a patrol officer who volunteered to receive training on inspecting car seats.
Redmond said the department alternates times they host the free events to accommodate different schedules. At times events will be held from 4 to 7 p.m., 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. or noon to 4 p.m. on weekdays or Saturdays.
Kids in Safety Seats has trained county police during four-day certification courses, accounting for the 28 certified officers trained to inspect seats.
“As a patrol officer, I’ve observed a lot of improperly installed seats and some children I’ve seen didn’t have car seats at all,” said Redmond. “As the word is getting out, we’re getting a lot more participation from the community.”
He said they inspected about 20 vehicles from their previous two inspections.
During the events, outdated or recalled car seats are replaced with new ones on site made possible through a Prince George’s County Federal Credit Union donation, Beck said.
Redmond said as the summer season arrives and more drivers will be on the roads, county police will try to hold at least three car seat checks per month.
Even though Gottman’s car seat was deemed safe for her daughter, she said she was going to ask every mother at her baby and toddler exercise group to get their child safety seats inspected as well.
“I have to tell other moms,” said Gottman. “Hopefully people take advantage of this.”