Click photo to enlarge
Highway Patrol Officer Paul McCarthy helps Judy Kitt correctly install a carseat for her son, Joseph, during an event sponsored by the CHP and the Redwood City Fire Department; Mountain View, 2000. (Mercury News)

Q Gary, can you do us a favor?

DJ-the-CHP-Man

San Jose

A When the California Highway Patrol needs a favor, I'm ready to listen. What's up?

Q We need to let the public know that our office does child-safety-seat checks on a regular basis each month. We had an event recently and our appointments weren't full. Also, we have approximately 100 or more appointment openings each month and we are also having trouble filling those as well. I think with your help more people will call in for appointments.

It's a great educational program. We show parents how to properly install their child safety seat and go over safety issues. All they have to do is call our office weekdays at 408-467-5400 to set up an appointment in the San Jose area. We have lots of them, ranging from weekdays to even Saturdays.

DJ-the-CHP-Man

A If you have a child in a car seat, take advantage of this free inspection. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reports that as many as 90 percent of car seats are improperly installed, putting children at great risk. Nine out of 10!

Here are the CHP offices in the Bay Area you can contact:


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Aptos: 831-662-0511

Castro Valley: 510-581-9028

Martinez: 925-646-4980

Dublin: 925-828-0466

Gilroy: 408-848-2324

Hayward: 510-489-1500

Corte Madera: 415-924-1100

Napa: 707-253-4906

Oakland: 510-450-3821

Redwood City: 650-369-6261

San Francisco: 415-557-1094

Rohnert Park: 707-588-1400

Fairfield: 707-428-2100

And here are some checks you can make now, before an inspection:

Inch test: Give the car seat a good shake at the base. Can you move it more than an inch from side to side or front to back? Then it's too loose. A properly installed seat will not move more than an inch.

Pinch test: Make sure the harness is tightly buckled and coming from the correct slots. With the chest clip placed at armpit level, pinch the strap at your child's shoulder. If you are unable to pinch any excess webbing, you're good to go.

Q How long should a child sit in a car seat facing the rear? I get conflicting opinions from other parents.

Jayme Estrada

San Mateo

A The American Academy of Pediatrics says kids should stay in rear-facing seats until at least age 2, but you want to keep your child in a rear-facing car seat for as long as possible. Riding in a rear-facing car seat is up to five times safer for toddlers than riding in a forward-facing car seat.

Researchers say when children are sitting in rear-facing car seats, the stopping forces are spread out over their entire backs. The back of the car seat becomes a cushion for the child.

However, in the forward-facing position, all of the forces of a crash are focused on the points of the body that come into contact with the car-seat straps. The child's head and limbs keep moving forward, pulling against the seat.

Most children will outgrow a rear-facing infant seat well before their first birthday, but that doesn't mean it's time to turn the baby to face forward. The next step is to get a larger car seat that can be used both rear-facing and forward-facing.

Q What are the rules regarding how long kids need to be in a safety seat?

Michael Ruiz

San Leandro

A Kids in California must ride in the back seat in either a car seat or booster seat until the age of 8 or until they are 4 feet 9 inches in height.

Children ages 8 or older may use a vehicle's seat belt if it fits properly with the lap belt low on their hips, touching the upper thighs, and with the shoulder belt crossing the center of the chest. If children are not tall enough for a seat belt to properly fit, they must ride in a car seat or booster seat.

Follow Gary Richards at twitter.com/mrroadshow, look for him at facebook.com/mr.roadshow or contact him at mrroadshow@mercurynews.com or 408-920-5335.