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At Issue: How a car seat saved a little boy's life - WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

At Issue: How a car seat saved a little boy's life

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LEBANON, N.H. -

It's the kind of video you see and wonder how anyone got out alive.

"The car had bent around the tree and the roof had come down and the roof was setting down on his legs," says Lebanon Fire Department Captain Jim Wheatley.
     
He is the 18-month-old, Jim Wheatley says, who was trapped inside this Nissan Murano. Wheatley's five-person crew responded to the call the night of January 2 on Interstate 89.

"Everybody that responded from here on the call has children that are child safety seat age," he says.
 
Captain Wheatley's seven-year-old son Adam still uses a booster seat and is never far from dad's mind, even when he's at work. That night, they knew that one person inside the car had died, a woman was seriously injured and the child was trapped. 

"This is probably one of the more extensive mechanisms of injuries that we've ever seen involving a child safety seat and it was clear that the child seat made a huge difference and a significant impact in him not being injured at all," Wheatley says.
 
"He was in the right spot, that seat was securely installed and he was properly tightened in that, and that's what kept him where he needed to be," says Child Passenger Safety Technician Krista Duval.
 
Krista Duval works for the Woman's Health Resource Center in Lebanon, New Hampshire. She says, the center does about 200 child safety seat checks a year. Her office partners with the Lebanon Fire Department and does checks right here at the station.

On this day, she went through a check with Debora Merritt. Merritt has two grandchildren, 19-month-old Colin and 5-year-old Stella, who ride in her car a couple of times a week.
 
"Just wanted to double-check to make sure the seats were safe, especially in the wintertime," Merritt says.
 
Once Duval shows her how to install the seat correctly, she has Merritt try it so she knows that she can do it on her own. 

Krista says there are three key mistakes that parents in our area make when it comes to child safety seats. She says they go from rear-facing to forward-facing too soon. She recommends keeping them rear facing until they're at least two years old.

"When they're rear-facing, the seat supports their head, spine and neck in a crash it's able to distribute the force evenly over the whole body," she says.
 
The second-biggest mistake parents make is taking kids out of a five point harness too soon and putting them into a booster seat with a seat belt. 
She says, the harness evenly distributes the force in a crash. Experts say kids should use a harness if they weigh up to 40 pounds.

And the third-biggest mistake: installing car seats incorrectly.
      
"We want our babies and our children to be safe and we understand that the leading cause of death for children between two and fourteen is motor vehicle accidents," she says.
 
While I had her, she also checked the car seat base in my car!

"You have your base installed with both the belt and the latch. And we should only have one method of installation," she says.

Reporter Julie Kelley: "Why is that?"

Duval: "Because they've actually not crash-tested them with both methods."
 
Since my car is not set up to use the latch in the middle seat, and that's the safest place for a baby to be, she shows me how to install the base with the seatbelt.

"One hand at the belt path. If I can move it one inch side to side then it's too loose," she says.
 
We try again, and it takes a twist that only an expert would know.

"Nissan says that it is fine to actually take and twist the stock up to three full turns to shorten it," she says.
 
That enables the base to be tight enough and stay level, another key check for parents.

"So I'm going to pull this all the way out and convert the retractor. You're going to hear it ratcheting, so it means that it's locked. It won't come back out," she says.
 
Captain Wheatley says after they got the boy out of the car seat in the accident and had time to reflect on it, they were amazed that he walked away almost without a scratch.

"I'm sure that all of us went home and made sure that our safety seats were properly installed and double-checked them after that, there's no doubt about it," he says.
 
Just as there's no doubt to anyone who responded to the crash that a properly installed child seat helped save a little boy's life.

For more information on where you can check in your area to make sure your car seats are installed correctly, visit: http://www.safercar.gov/cpsApp/cps/index.htm

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