Tahlequah Daily Press

March 27, 2014

Following car seat rules saves kids’ lives

Staff Writer

TAHLEQUAH — First-time expectant parents often get caught up in the romance of a new baby, buying tiny clothes, caps, cribs and the like.

But before they can bring the little bundle of joy home, the purchase and proper installation of a child safety seat is required.

According to the Oklahoma Highway Safety Office, state law requires children 5 and younger be properly restrained in either a child car seat or booster seat appropriate for their age, height and weight. Children 6-12 must be properly restrained in either a child car seat, booster seat or seat belt. “Properly restrained” means the system is correctly installed and being used in accordance with the seat manufacturer’s instructions.

Shawnna Roach, community resource investigator for the Cherokee Nation Marshal Service and SafeKids-certified child seat inspector, said the tribe offers assistance with obtaining and installing car seats.

“The program isn’t just for tribal citizens, but for everyone,” said Roach. “The problem we have now is a lack of seats. We try to conduct two to three safety checks per year, at which time we distribute seats.”

Roach said the average lifespan of a child safety seat is about 6 years – far beyond the time it would take a child to outgrow the equipment.

“But how long they last really depends on how they’re installed,” said Roach. “That’s why it’s so important to have a seat checked by an inspector.”

Former Daily Press staffer Kellie Odeneal is the mother of two young boys: Robert, 3, and Felix, 1. While the law does not require a seat to be rear-facing after the child is a year old, Odeneal believes it is key for safety.

“The thing I’m most passionate about is rear-facing [seats],” said Odeneal. “The laws are outdated. It has somehow become a milestone to forward-face our children at 1 year and/or 22 pounds, but it’s dangerous.”

The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration recommends the rear-facing position until a child’s fourth birthday, and at the very minimum, 2 years. From there, children should ride in forward-facing seats with a five-point harness until they reach the maturity necessary to stay seated properly in a belt-positioning booster seat.

“[And that means seated properly] for every ride, the entire ride, even if they’re sleeping,” said Odeneal. “Booster seats are also recommended until children reach puberty, at which point their bone structure is more like that of an adult.”

Roach agrees.

“Children should remain in rear-facing seats as long as possible,” said Roach. “People have to understand that the state law says children should be restrained in the back seat until age 12, but really, age has far less to do with safety than size and the emotional maturity of the child.”

It’s not uncommon for friends and family members of an expectant couple to pass child seats on that are no longer being used. Roach stressed again the importance of having the seat inspected and properly installed.

“I wouldn’t recommend buying a used seat,” said Roach. “It’s important to know the history of a seat, because they should be replaced if they’ve ever been involved in a crash, even a minor one. If someone is looking at accepting a used seat, we ask them to bring it to us for inspection and proper installation.”

Once a child has outgrown a seat, or should the equipment wear out, Roach implores parents to not throw them away or attempt to sell them.

“Bring them to us at the Marshal Service,” said Roach. “I would hate for someone to toss a seat in a Dumpster, only to have it pulled out and used by someone. We dispose of them. Actually, what we do is destroy them so they can’t be re-used.”

The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration offers a website, www.safercar. gov/parents/GetHelp.htm, the allows parents to register a child safety seat. Parents can also sign up to receive email alerts about car seat and booster, even though manufacturers are required to notify consumers about any recalls.


To find out more about child safety seats, their installation and inspection, contact Cherokee Nation Marshal Service Community Resource Investigator Shawnna Roach at (918) 207-3800.