Safety officials say three of four kids, from newborns to 8-year-olds, are not buckled properly in car seats, and the CHP is doing something about it by offering free car-seat training classes from Marin to the South Bay this week.
Jennifer Rubin, safety coordinator for the Safe Kids Greater Sacramento Coalition in Carmichael, says that of the more than 2,000 car seats she's checked in the past eight years, "I think I have only seen three or four perfectly installed seats."
That's a disturbing comment, given that car crashes are the leading cause of death for young kids, and safety officials say one reason is that so few are buckled in properly. Usually the culprits are well-intentioned parents who simply don't know what is a safe and secure fit and what isn't.
Most of the CHP's classes will fill up, and some locations recommend calling ahead for an appointment.
Rubin said many first-time parents get help from parents, other family members or friends when installing a car seat for their baby. The problem is they often don't know what's safe or not.
The most common critical mistakes are loose harness straps and loose attachments of the car seat to the car. Even a minor crash or a turn taken too fast can cause a child in a car seat to go flying inside a vehicle.
"An improperly installed car seat could be as little as the seat moves a half-inch side to side or as much as wrong safety seat plus facing wrong direction plus wrong attachments to the car plus loose belts plus in the front rather than the back, and on and on," said Chris Cochran of the state Office of Traffic Safety.
He said when used correctly, child car seats can reduce fatal injuries by up to 71 percent for infants and 54 percent for toddlers.
The American Academy of Pediatrics updated its recommendations in 2011 to say that infants and toddlers should ride facing the rear of the vehicle until at least 2 years of age. They also recommend that young children ride in car safety seats with a harness until at least age 4 or up to the highest weight or height allowed by the car-seat manufacturer.
And infants should never be put in the front seat, where an exploding air bag could cause great harm.
California law was updated in 2012 to require that children ride in the back seat in their car seat or booster seat until age 8 or when the seat belt fits them correctly, with exemptions for some vehicles or children who reach 4'9" earlier.
"With car-seat checkups, we can see the change happen before our eyes and know that child is safer when the family drives away than when they came in," Rubin said. "Every parent or caregiver that comes to our car-seat checkups learns something new.
"Some learn that they have made serious mistakes with their car seats that could result in a fatality if they were in a crash, and some only need small adjustments."
Contact Gary Richards at 408-920-5335.
All events are Saturday, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. unless otherwise noted.
Go to www.safercar.gov/parents/CarSeats.htm or contact your local California Highway Patrol office to find other locations for future inspections.
Source: California Highway Patrol