Child Car Seat Safety

Each year children suffer serious injury or death in car accidents. Children need special protection when traveling in motor vehicles and many of these injuries can be prevented by the correct use of child safety seats. It is estimated that 80-90% of child safety seats are improperly installed. The best car seat is one that fits the child and the vehicle, and one that is easy to install and is used every time the child is in the car.

The Santa Barbara County Fire Department has several firefighters who are certified as Child Passenger Seat Safety Technicians, and are available to inspect that car seats have been properly installed in a vehicle. Inspections are done by appointment only, and take approximately two weeks to schedule. To schedule an appointment, please open the ‘Car Seat Contact List’ link (below) and refer to a technician in your area. Other questions can be referred to carseats@sbcfire.com.

Car Seat Recommendations

Car Seat Contact List

A close call
In November 2015, Santa Barbara County Fire was dispatched to a vehicle accident on Highway 101 involving four people in a single vehicle, including a two month old baby. The driver of the vehicle experienced a medical emergency while driving at highway speeds. The vehicle went off the roadway onto an embankment and then crossed all three lanes of the highway and crashed head on into the center divider.

The baby was restrained in a car seat in the back seat, but the car seat had not been properly restrained to the seat. At some point, while the truck was travelling up the embankment, the car seat became dislodged, and was free in the back seat, bumping around and “flying into the air.”

Luckily, the mother of the baby was able to act quickly and grab the car seat as it bumped around before the impact of the truck hitting the center divider. The baby appeared to be non-injured on scene, but was transported at the request of mother for further evaluation at hospital.

This incident is a reminder of the importance of properly securing the car seat in the car. Had the mother been driving and unable to control the free car seat, the outcome of the accident could have been tragic.

A tragic tale
In July 2005, Santa Barbara County Fire Department responded to a vehicle rollover on U.S. Highway 101 with reports that there were patients ejected onto the roadway. What responders saw at the accident scene was disturbing. The three ejected were children and included a two month old infant, as well as a five and seven year old.

The Fire Department was the first Advanced Life Support provider to arrive at the accident scene. The first thing responders noted was a small infant in the fast lane screaming, which indicated that she was still very much alive. One of the first emergency service providers to arrive on scene was an off-duty police officer from San Luis Obispo County who rendered aid to the victims until the Fire Department arrived on scene. Also responding to the incident were four rescue ambulances and Calstar’s Medivac Helicopter with two nurses on board.

The infant was ejected from the vehicle because of a 50-cent piece of plastic that was positioned down to the buckle by the umbilical level. This piece is called the Harness-Retainer Clip which needs to be placed at the armpit level (as shown above). Firefighters found that the seat belt and harness were too loose, the retainer clip was down to the umbilical level and the carrier handle was in the up position verses the correct position with the carrier handle placed toward the back of the car seat.

The three year old boy was strapped in his car seat almost perfectly and suffered absolutely no injuries. The five and seven year old boys were ejected out the back passenger windows. One of them had a booster seat with no seat belt, as indicated on the ground (the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and CDC recommend the use of booster seats for children who weigh at least 40 pounds, are aged 4-8 years, and are less than 4 feet 9 inches tall).

The situation could have had a happier ending and could have been easily addressed had the parents attended a Car Seat Installation Class provided by the Santa Barbara County Fire Department.

A properly installed car seat and safety belt can save you and your child’s life…
On an early October morning, the Santa Barbara County Fire Department responded to a vehicle accident near New Cuyama on HWY 166. A 4-door sedan lost control on the highway and slid sideways into oncoming traffic. Another vehicle broadsided the sedan at full speed. A 2-½ year old girl was properly restrained in her car seat. The location of the seat was intruded over 18 inches. The driver and 2-½ year old girl were transported to the hospital and sustained only minor injuries.
Don’t put your children at an unnecessary risk of being injured or killed in crashes because they are simply in the wrong restraint for their size or are improperly restrained.