Car seats aren't kid stuff

TRAFFIC TALK

April 01, 2003|By Jody K. Vilschick | Jody K. Vilschick,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

TERRI TAYLOR estimates that 99 percent of the infant car seats in Howard County are incorrectly installed, and she ought to know: She is a volunteer for the Howard County SAFE KIDS Coalition, which has correctly installed more than 4,000 car seats since 1999.

The Howard County SAFE KIDS Coalition is working to change those statistics. Each month, they alternate between the Scaggsville Fire Station or the 5th District Fire Station in Clarksville, where parents can bring their cars and car seats to be correctly installed twice each month. The coalition consists of many government and nonprofit agencies throughout the county that support kids' safety. "If it was not for the support of the Fire Department and the Police Department, this service might go away," Taylor said.

There are few things free in life, but this is one of them, although donations and thank-yous are gratefully accepted.

But don't just show up. The service is so popular that it is by appointment only. "Sometimes we get new parents who say their baby is due tomorrow and can they have their car seat installed right now," Taylor said. "I want to ask them, didn't you have nine months to plan for this?" Right now, appointments are booked through May, so plan on a couple months' wait before landing a coveted appointment.

Knowing which car seat fits best with your car is an important aspect of choosing a car seat, Taylor believes, but is often overlooked by parents consumed by other considerations. "Saturns are problematic," she said. "The biggest problem is that some cars, like Saturns, have too-narrow seats for some of the more recent car seat models."

The coalition has compiled a list of seats that will work well with every type of car, so call ahead for advice before buying a car seat. "We prefer to address issues before they become problems," she said.

"Because the seats are installed by trained and certified volunteers and staff from the fire departments, we can only offer 40 appointments every other week in the winter and 70 every other week in the summer," she said. Car-seat installers go through a 32-hour training class to become certified.

"Read your car's manual and try to put the car seat in before you come," Taylor recommended. "But if it moves, it's not in tight enough." She noted that despite the prevalence of car seats and the increased safety they offer babies and young children, some people deny the benefits of car seats. "We still see people who say, `I didn't have a car seat growing up, so my children don't need them,' " Taylor said. It is Maryland law, she noted. "State and county police are starting to pull cars with loose kids over more often," Taylor said. "It's getting riskier."

Babies up to at least a year old should be in rear-facing car seats. Children younger than age 6 or who weigh less than 60 pounds should be in booster seats, according to a new Maryland law that will go into effect in October. But for safety's sake, Taylor advises parents to keep their kids in booster seats until they weigh 80 pounds.

Two Web sites offer more information about installing car seats: www.safekids.org and www.nhtsa.gov.

Information about the Howard County SAFE KIDS Coalition or to make an appointment to have your car seats installed: 410-313-6090.

Pedestrian right of way

Sharon Kemmlein commented on J. Wynne's "problem with the pedestrian crosswalks at the Cradlerock traffic circle" that was published in last week's column. J. Wynne complained about waiting on the curb while traffic sped by.

"It is my understanding, and I could be wrong, that unless a pedestrian is IN the crosswalk, you do not have to stop. If someone is just waiting on the sidewalk, you can keep moving. Is this true?" Kemmlein asked. "Also, in that traffic circle, if someone stopped to allow a person to cross, there is a chance of being rear-ended as no one is expecting you to stop."

Good catch, Ms. Kemmlein. The law states that cars have to yield to pedestrians in cross walks. It also says that pedestrians must allow cars adequate time to stop before stepping into the road. And I would be extra cautious and vigilant in a traffic circle, where people are disinclined to follow the rules of the road.

"As a walker," she continued, "I wait for traffic to clear or have a good comfortable stopping distance when they see me in the crosswalk before I walk into the street. As a driver, I will stop at a crosswalk if there is no one immediately behind me who may rear-end me because they're not expecting me to stop in the middle of a street. Along Cradlerock, I have noticed that if I stop at a crosswalk, usually the driver coming from the other direction will do the same, even if the walker has not yet stepped out into the street."

What's your traffic trauma? Contact Jody K. Vilschick at elison@us.net or send faxes to 410-715-2816. Technophobes can mail letters to Traffic Talk, The Sun in Howard County, 5570 Sterrett Place, Suite 300, Columbia 21044.

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