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How do you protect your child in the car?

Jennifer Sprouse • Jul 26, 2012 at 7:04 AM

No one ever really plans for something bad to happen while they’re driving, but some quick checks can make for safe travel for both the driver and their passengers.

Lt. Jason Powell, firefighter, paramedic and child safety seat technician with the Johnson City Fire Department, said one thing riders and drivers don’t seem to think about as often would be air bags and their locations in the car.

“When they’re inside their vehicle they need to know where the air bags are located and where they can anticipate those air bags to come from,” Powell said. “There is a minimum amount of force that is required to initiate the air bags and it depends upon the location of the airbag in the vehicle as to how much ... that is. Vehicles are designed with switches that recognize sudden movement. So as long as it’s a controlled movement, such as a turn or a slowing down, and even an abrupt stop, it is still something that is within the tolerance of that switch.”

He said anything outside the normal operating system of a vehicle could easily trigger an airbag release, which works in conjunction with a properly belted passenger.

“The airbag systems in passenger vehicles are not designed as a primary protector,” Powell said. “The idea is to sit properly in your vehicle, with both feet on the floor and ... your back adjusted... so that you’re not too far forward and you’re not too far back.”

He said there are numerous sensory mechanisms in vehicles to help the auxiliary system determine when to deploy, which will then spark an electrical charge, an explosion, that activates and inflates balloons in placed areas around the inside of the vehicle.

Powell said the force of an activated airbag is extremely fast and powerful.

“The airbag is going to be coming out of there at a very high velocity, because what activates that is really an explosion and so it’s going to be traveling at speeds comparable to a bullet,” he said.

The ignited balloon, Powell said, has holes in it designed to help it deflate quickly, absorbing the energy from the initial impact. He said while it is important to know where the air bags are in a vehicle, proper seat belt wearing and overall seat placement can save the driver or passenger from other injuries.

“A lot of people will take the shoulder strap and push it underneath their arm or they will put it behind their back,” Powell said. “That seat belt is not going to work properly and in fact may cause more harm if they’re wearing improperly.”

Powell also noted not putting feet up on the dashboard in a vehicle, as well as securing loose objects in the car, could prevent an unintentional airbag deployment.

Another car safety tip involved child safety seats and making sure the child, as well as the seat itself, is secure and strapped in tight.

“Most of the time the child seats are not tight enough and the seats need to be tightened into the vehicle extremely tight,” Powell said. “It shouldn’t move more than an inch in either direction. If it moves more than an inch, it’s not tight enough and they need to retighten it.”

This is also the case for the straps holding the child into the seat.

“When the child comes home from the hospital, they should be pretty securely strapped into the seat so that they can put just one finger between the straps and the child. A newborn child has no concept of tight or loose,” he said. “They don’t have any relationship to that type of concept. We teach that to them.”

Powell, one of the nationally certified child safety seat technicians with the JCFD, said it’s essential for parents to put their kids in a secure, rear-facing child seat in the backseat of their vehicle.

“Studies have repeatedly shown that as long as the child fits properly in the seat that is rear-facing and the seat is designed to hold the weight of the passenger, they’re safer rear-facing,” he said. “In Tennessee, the law is that the child has to be rear-facing until they are both 20 pounds and one year of age. And it’s not one or the other, it’s both.”

Powell said while it is not a law, it is recommended by the state to not let kids ride in the front seat of a vehicle until they are 13.

“The backseat is always, always the safest for ... children,” he said. “Children, just like cell phones, can be a huge, huge problem with distracted drivers and ... parents need to be very mindful of not becoming too distracted with their children.”

As a child seat safety technician, Powell said he and other technicians are willing to help out anyone needing help to properly secure the car seat, but said they prefer to see the actual car seat versus giving advice over the phone.

“We are certified and we work through a federal grant that is managed ... by East Tennessee State University. We were trained by people from (ETSU) and they are the ones that oversee our program,” he said.

Powell said child safety seat technicians are available at most municipal police departments and fire departments in the region to help parents and adults learn more about the devices.

To schedule an appointment to get your child seat looked at, call the Johnson City Fire Department at 975-2840.

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