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Child Safety Seat Guidelines & Laws - Protect What You Love Most
When it comes to your children on the road there is no such thing as being overly cautious. California Highway Patrol Officer, Simeon Yarbrough, shares not only what the laws and guidelines are to keep your family safe but what he does as a father himself to protect his own family while driving.
We really want this information to stick and want you to be safe on the roads with your family! So here’s the information Officer Yarbrough refers to in the podcast:
CHP website: CHP.CA.gov
CHP South LA phone: 310-516-3355
Recording date – February 4, 2018
Officer Yarbrough: You want that car seat in there snug and you want the child to be in there safe. You don’t want to have mirrors back there, anything that can break or anything that can be thrown into the baby. When you’re driving, we want your focus on the road. The only thing that ever gets me emotional is kids, babies, teenagers hurt out there in collisions. I’ve pretty much seen the worst of the worst. I’ve had to give CPR rescue breathing to kids and babies and teenagers. Those are things that you never forget. So for me, I would tell everybody and implore everybody to make sure your kid is properly restrained no matter what.
Tom Smith: Welcome to iDriveSoCal, the podcast all about mobility from the automotive capital of these fine United States of America – Southern California. I’m Tom Smith, and for our regular listeners you know that I’m a new dad. My son is just a few months old, and I’m head over heels. He’s kicked my butt. I love him more than anything. And with that in mind, safety is absolutely paramount to the every move that I make. And since I live in Southern California, here in Los Angeles, it is impossible to get around unless you drive. Not impossible, but very, very, very challenging. So with that in mind, we’re covering child safety seats in this episode. Something really important to me, keeping my son safe. Something very important to all parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and whatnot. With me today is Officer Simone Yarbrough from the California Highway Patrol. Officer Yarbrough, thank you so much for joining us.
Officer Yarbrough: Thank you for having me. I appreciate it, Tom.
Tom Smith: I was born in the middle of winter in the Midwest and in the Midwest you have tremendous snow storms. You have the concept of black ice. And I know I wasn’t brought home in a four wheel drive vehicle and I know I wasn’t brought home in a child safety seat at all. In fact, my mom held me in her arms. Oh, how times have changed.
Officer Yarbrough: Definitely. You know I don’t remember having a child safety seat when I was younger either. We were probably around the same age so you got to remember that. But I think the first laws came into effect in 1979 in Tennessee. They developed the first child seat laws and then later by 1985 or so I think all states were required to have laws regarding child seats.
Tom Smith: And we’re here in Southern California. People listen to the podcast all over the place. Are the laws state by state?
Officer Yarbrough: Absolutely. So NHTSA governs the laws all over the country, but every state’s laws are just a little bit different. So every state has a child seat law. But Missouri and California may be different.
Tom Smith: Okay. And NHTSA, National Highway Transportation Safety Administration?
Officer Yarbrough: Correct. They regulate safety seats.
Tom Smith: So they regulate the seats that we put in our cars but then it’s state by state from there how you use those seats?
Officer Yarbrough: It’s state by state what the particulars of the laws are. NHTSA still has to say, “Okay, that’s cool. That’s cool.” So you still have to be under NHTSA standards, but the laws can be just a little bit different in each state. So maybe like turnaround time, which we’re going to discuss later, in California is two years. In another state it may be one year.
Tom Smith: With regard to the laws, the turnaround is actually kind of new, right? So let’s walk through that. When did that happen? And let’s talk specifics here in California.
Officer Yarbrough: The turnaround just occurred in January 1st, 2017. Children under two years of age shall ride rear facing and the exception is if the child is over 40 pounds or 40 inches in height.
Tom Smith: 40 pounds or 40 inches in height and two years old. So up till two, they’re riding backwards?
Officer Yarbrough: Correct. And I would keep my child…like my child is one year and ten months. I’m gonna keep him rear facing and as long as possible even past two years old.
Tom Smith: Yeah, yeah.
Officer Yarbrough: Just for the safety aspect, his back, neck, and spine can be hurt. It’s a five time greater chance that he’s hurt more if he’s forward facing than rear facing. So rear facing is definitely five times safer.
Tom Smith: Now is there the area of impact of the vehicle, likelihood of impact of the vehicle, factored into that equation?
Officer Yarbrough: Yes…
Tom Smith: Because if you were to hit something or someone head on as opposed to get hit from behind, isn’t that going to impact the passengers differently and, thus, that’s the whole turn around concept?
Officer Yarbrough: Yes it is. So if you hit somebody…if you get hit from behind that impact is going to take to make you go frontward first and then you’re going to come back. Well, if you’re rear facing, the whole body takes the brunt of that collision instead of just your back, neck, and spine. If you’re backward facing, you’re not going to have the same… You’re not going to take the brunt of that impact.
Tom Smith: Then the infant’s fragile body is going into the…
Officer Yarbrough: The seat.
Tom Smith: …the seat.
Officer Yarbrough: Instead of away from the seat.
Tom Smith: So that’ll be the main impact and then as they come forward, that will be the…
Officer Yarbrough: Correct.
Tom Smith: …the lesser aspect of the impact. So two years old or what are the height and weight again?
Officer Yarbrough: So It’s two years old and 40 pounds or 40 inches in height.
Tom Smith: Okay. But you, as someone who is an expert in this area, who has a child that’s under two, are already planning on keeping your child backward facing as long as possible.
Officer Yarbrough: Yeah absolutely. You need to think about it. Would you rather because everybody hears about their kids legs touch in the back of the seat. Well, would you rather your kid break a leg and something that can be healed or break their neck or back? So I’d much rather him break his leg and I’m comfortable with that. Being rear facing is just totally safer. And my kid is tall already, but he’s not too tall for the height of the seat and the weight of the seat. So long as he’s within that, then he’s good.
Tom Smith: And so that is the barometer. As long as he’s not too tall or heavy for the specs on the seat, you can keep him safely or safer facing backward?
Officer Yarbrough: Correct.
Tom Smith: Okay. Good to know because I’m going to do the same thing with my little guy. Now once we turn them around where we’re in a completely different seat, typically, by most manufacturers standards from my understanding, is that correct?
Officer Yarbrough: Well, it just depends on what kind of seat you have. If you have an infant carrier, then you’re no longer going to be able to use that seat. You’ll probably want to go to a convertible seat and most convertible seats can be used rear facing for two years and then can be turned around. So it just depends on what kind of seat you have. They also have combination car seats and it can only be used forward facing or as a booster seat. So it just depends on what kind of seat you have.
Tom Smith: I want to circle back to the specific seats, but first get to the most recent change is the actual law here in California. The driving backwards law started in 2017?
Officer Yarbrough: So the rear facing law started prior to 2017, but the new law where they changed it from one year to two years started January 1st, 2017.
Tom Smith: I don’t even want to talk about this, but we have to. What are the stats, high level, that are going to wake parents up and anybody that has to drive a child and say, “Okay this is why this is important.”?
Officer Yarbrough: In 2009, there were 4058 injuries and fatalities in California involving children under 14. Three hundred and sixty five of those children were unrestrained. And then in 2010, the preliminary numbers indicated that there were 2126 injuries and fatalities in California involving children under 14. Two hundred fifteen of those children were unrestrained. So if you don’t have the child in a car seat or you don’t have them in there properly, when they’re that small, is a good chance the injuries will be big in a big time collision. If it’s a small fender bender, of course, you have a chance to be okay. But if it’s a big collision, anything where they can come off the car for speeds of 30, 40, 50 miles an hour, there’s a great chance that your child will be hurt badly, so I would definitely keep them restrained and restrained properly. If you don’t know how to put your car seat in or if you’re not sure if it’s in correctly, make an appointment with the California Highway Patrol at the local offices. We’ll check out your seat for you for free.
Tom Smith: And that’s exactly why we’re doing this podcast because my wife and I did exactly that. We’re at the South L.A. California Highway Patrol office just off the 405 in Torrance and this is where my wife and I came. And your colleague, Officer Edington, helped us install our seats. And thank you guys for that. Definitely appreciate it.
Officer Yarbrough: No problem. When I first started, maybe my first 15 years or so, I had two god kids. I don’t have children yet but, I had two god kids and I would get the car seat and look at the instructions and say, “Oh I can put this in.” When I look back on it now, I realize that I didn’t install the car seat correctly. So it’s not as easy as you think. You have to go to a 40 hour class to qualify to be an instructor and it’s a real class. In there they give you homework. You’re studying. It’s practical. So they go out there and watch you and monitor you put in seat after seat after seat.
Tom Smith: A 40 hour class to learn how to install a car seat?
Officer Yarbrough: Two 40 hours. No two hour lunches, no getting out early, It was 8 to 5, a hour lunch, and you’d better be back on time.
Tom Smith: That’s significant to me because I know so many new dads and moms that are just like, eh, buy a car seat, whatever, grab one, throw it in. And I know that’s a big factor too is a high percentage of car seats are actually installed incorrectly.
Officer Yarbrough: Yeah, we get people that come up here all the time and they say, “Oh, you know, I just got instructions. How hard can it be?” And they put the car seat in the back and when you shake it from the base, it’s moving all over the place so it’s not really installed correctly. And in a case of a collision, it’s not really going to help out much. So you want to make sure your seat is in correctly. That’s your most prized possession are your children.
Tom Smith: Yeah, the whole, “Oh how hard can it be?” thing. I realized it was incredibly hard because your colleague, Officer Edington, helped me put the thing in. But I realized after doing it, that I don’t want these car seats. I took those back and got new car seats because I wanted something that was more user friendly. But yeah, you guys were awesome. And so everybody…
Officer Yarbrough: Let me jump in right there. When you talk about user friendly, that’s exactly what you want because you want consistency. You want to be able to put that child seat in the same way every single time and you want it to be tight. You don’t want it to move more than one inch side to side or forward to back. You want that car seat in there snug and you want the child to be in there safe. You want to know, “Hey I can throw this car seat in there. It takes a minute tops. The baby is in there safe.” And check your car seat. If you go to the car wash or you go anywhere and it’s a possibility somebody else used your car, maybe they put groceries in the back and they loosened the car seat to make sure they can fit all the groceries, check the car seat before you just throw the baby in there to make sure it’s still in there correctly. It doesn’t take that much time, especially after you learn how to do it.
Tom Smith: You only schedule your appointments so far in advance but you book up pretty quick. So that brings me back to it’s not just you guys that do this, your location here. There’s other CHP locations that do it?
Officer Yarbrough: Correct. We have 10 different locations within our southern division. So you can go to East L.A., West L.A., Central L.A., our office right here in South L.A., Altadena. We have offices all over the state that does it.
Tom Smith: Is there a website where they can figure out what the various offices are or…?
Officer Yarbrough: Absolutely. You can always go to chp.ca.gov or you can look it up and call your local office directly, and we’ll be happy to help you out. The number to our office is area code 310-516-3355. And just tell them where you live and where you’re located and they’ll tell you the local office near you.
Tom Smith: Perfect thank you for that. We also took a class with AAA. And the class with AAA, they had a very politically correct answer when someone asked, “What’s the best child safety seat?”
Officer Yarbrough: They probably told you the middle. Correct?
Tom Smith: No, no, no, not location. We asked what brand. And they said they’re all equally good because they all have to hit the NHTSA standards.
Officer Yarbrough: Correct.
Tom Smith: So it sounds like that’s the same answer that you’re going to give, too, from a politically correct perspective?
Officer Yarbrough: And that’s the answer I’m gonna give you.
Tom Smith: Okay, perfect.
Officer Yarbrough: They all have to be checked out and they’re basically governing themselves. And if the seats are not good enough to go out then they’re not going to go out. What you’re paying for more for the child is comfort. You get a $25 seat, it’s just as good as the $300 seat. It might not be as comfortable or as fluffy or the kid is not going to be all relaxed, but it’s going to be, from a safety standpoint, it’s going to be just a safe.
Tom Smith: It’s going to check all the safety boxes.
Officer Yarbrough: Correct.
Tom Smith: But I will say, from and we talked about this a little bit off mic, from a dad’s perspective of having to deal with the thing, install it, move it around, deal with it, there’s a big difference from one to another as far as how easy it is to install and whatnot.
Officer Yarbrough: Absolutely. And I see that all the time when people come up here to get their car seats installed. All the cars that we deal with, you see different ones and some of the more expensive ones are pretty user friendly, but, again, I’m not going to discount the ones that are $25, $30.
Tom Smith: Now let’s talk about where to put it in the car because…and we talked about this off mic as well. There’s pros and cons. You would think that putting the seat in the middle… Obviously we’re talking the back seat. The child safety seat never, ever, ever goes in the front seat. Right? No?
Officer Yarbrough: Wrong. You don’t want to put it in the front seat with the active airbag. Never do a rear facing, but you can under certain circumstances. You have maybe like a pickup truck, a two seater, where you have to put the child seat in the front and there are rules in place that you can do so as long as the airbag is off.
Tom Smith: Okay. Did not know that.
Officer Yarbrough: Rear facing.
Tom Smith: …rear facing.
Officer Yarbrough: Front seat and you can turn it around in the front seat.
Tom Smith: So you can go rear facing or front facing in the front seat?
Officer Yarbrough: Correct.
Tom Smith: Okay. Wow. I’m so glad we’re having this chat.
Officer Yarbrough: Me too.
Tom Smith: Back to the back seat or one of the two seats. Does it matter anymore when we’re talking about two rows of backseats these days with vehicles?
Officer Yarbrough: No, not at all.
Tom Smith: There’s a couple of things to think about. There’s gosh forbid there’s actually an impact, an accident, that’s one element. But then there is also the convenient element of getting any child in and out. But then the other factor is a safety element of getting the child in and out as well. You know, it takes you a little bit longer to put the seat in the middle and you got your door open, you’re in a parking lot or maybe you’re parallel parked, and you know then your body’s hanging out of the car so there’s that element to consider.”
Officer Yarbrough: A lot of people want to say the middle seat is the safest seat. My preference is the right side. And again just like you talked about being able to open the curbside door, get my baby out. It’s a lot easier. I would never put it on the left side unless I had two children because I don’t ever want to have to be in traffic. That’s probably the most dangerous spot you can put the child seat and not just because of a collision but having to be in traffic on the side where cars are coming people are texting, not paying attention, eating, doing all sorts of things in the car, checking the music, so you don’t want to put yourself in peril like that, yourself or the baby. Now, in that case, when I’m driving by myself or my wife’s driving by herself, the baby’s facing backwards. You can’t see the baby. And I know the mirrors are out there, and I was about to load up on the mirrors but then somebody pointed out, “Hey you know, if there is an incident, if there is an accident, those mirrors become projectiles.” And we decided to go without the mirrors.
Officer Yarbrough: That was a good choice, Tom.
Tom Smith: Yeah?
Officer Yarbrough: Absolutely. You don’t want to have mirrors back there, anything that can break or anything that can be thrown into the baby. When you’re driving, we want your focus on the road. If you have a problem with the baby, always pull over because it’s just like when the baby is sleeping. You’re asleep too a lot of the times. You’re not watching the baby at all times so you just got a know that the baby is all right while you’re driving and trying to get from point A to Point B because all you can do is worsen something up by looking behind you or looking in your rearview mirror and taking your eyes off traffic.
Tom Smith: So we have the infant seat rear facing, and then we have the infant seat front facing, and then we have a child seat front facing and then booster or basically… And there’s lots of manufacturers have lots of versions of those but those are kind of the categories of the child’s growth, right?
Officer Yarbrough: Yes, so it’s a rear facing only infant seats, then they have convertible car seats where you can use forward facing or rear facing, and then they also have combination car seats and that can be forward facing or used as a booster seat.
Tom Smith: We’re going to get to some resources in just a second but what are the highline takeaways for parents, aunts, uncles, grandparents, anybody that’s driving a child anywhere?
Officer Yarbrough: California law states that each child shall be properly restrained in a child safety seat, booster seat, or other restraint system in the back seat until the child is age eight or 4′ 9″ in height. The seat should be firmly installed. To test that seat, you always want to pull or grasp where it’s connected at the belt path or near the lower anchors. You don’t want to pull the top of the seat because, of course, it’s going to shake a little bit at the top or move at the top because that’s what it’s designed to do.
Tom Smith: And by the lower anchors we mean the base, where the base of the car seat is closest to where the seat of the car and the back of the car hit.
Officer Yarbrough: Correct.
Tom Smith: So that close that the tightest spot is going to be down there by the anchors or by the seatbelt depending on how you have it attached to the car.
Officer Yarbrough: Perfectly said. And then you want to check the harness straps too. They should always lie flat and not have any bends or twists in them and they should fit snug against the child’s body with no slack in the webbing. The chest clip should be placed at the armpit level and wear your seatbelts as parents because a child always wants to imitate the parent, too, so if they see you driving around with no seatbelt, they don’t want to be in their child seat or they don’t want to have a seat belt on either.
Tom Smith: How terrible would you feel if your body slammed into your child that isn’t in a seat?
Officer Yarbrough: It’s scary. That would be the worst thing ever, too. You know I’ve had to see all kind of grim things out there in the field. And the worst thing ever…the only thing that ever gets me emotional is kids, babies, teenagers hurt out there in collisions. I’ve pretty much seen the worst of the worst. I’ve had to give CPR rescue breathing to kids and babies and teenagers. Those are things that you never forget. So for me, I would tell everybody and implore everybody to make sure your kid is properly restrained no matter what.
Tom Smith: Officer Simone Yarbrough, thanks again very much for your service and everything you do. Thank you very much for joining me today. We very much appreciate the information and maybe we’ll circle back on another collaboration of some sort in the future.
Officer Yarbrough: Appreciate it, Tom. Thanks for having me. The CHP offers a lot of different programs so again you can always check www.chp.ca.gov for the programs that we offer.
Tom Smith: Thank you so much. This is iDriveSoCal. I’m Tom Smith. As always, thanks for listening.