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Car Seat Safety

Tonya Randolph discusses car seat safety. 

Learn more about the Children’s Wellness and Safety Center
Car Seat Safety
Featured Speaker:
Tonya Randolph
Tonya Randolph is the Certified Child Passenger Safety Instructor Lead for St. Joseph’s Children’s Hospital Children’s Wellness and Safety Center. Tonya has been in the child passenger safety field since 1999. As the lead child passenger safety instructor, Tonya teaches weekly car seat education classes and conducts inspections throughout Hillsborough County.  She also certifies new child passenger safety technicians and works with current certified child passenger safety technicians so they are able to stay current on changes with child passenger safety. Tonya has presented at national conferences. She is an active member of the Safe Kids Greater Tampa Coalition, Buckle Up for Life, and Florida Occupant Protection Coalition.
Car Seat Safety

Introduction: This is BayCare HealthChat, another podcast from BayCare Health System. Here's Melanie Cole.

Melanie Cole: Welcome. I'm Melanie Cole and today we're discussing car seat safety. Joining me is Tonya Randolph. She's a Children's Wellness and Safety Specialist with BayCare. Tonya, I'm so glad to have you with us. This is such a great topic. Tell us a little bit about car seats and what's important for us to know. Any new changes in the recommendations we should know about right now?

Tonya Randolph: The newest recommendations is recommending to keep children rear facing as long as possible. In the past it was until the age of two. Now the recommendation again is to keep them rear-facing until they max out the weight and height limit for the rear facing position at the car seat.

Host: So then let's talk about the weight and height limits. So start with our little guys first. Let's talk about the rear facing seats. Tell us a little bit about what you know, what they do, why they're so important, and what that height and weight restriction is so that we can keep them in those seats as long as possible.

Tonya Randolph: Well, the reason why they're suggesting to keep them rear facing past the age of two is because it provides better protection for the head, neck and spine in a car crash. And it cradles the child's body in a rear facing crash. The car seat will perform what we call a ride down effect, which will allow again the child to be cradled inside the car seat, which will protect their head, neck, and back.

Host: So when can they be turned around, you know, give us really that height and weight because parents don't know and they think, Oh, maybe they've got a bigger child, but really the child is still very young or really shouldn't be turned around forward.

Tonya Randolph: Well, it all depends on the manufacturer's recommendations for the car seat. Most car seats that's out on the market will allow rear facing up to 40 pounds. Some will allow up to 50 pounds. Again, it varies from manufacturer to manufacturer as well as the height position. So when parents are concerned or want to keep their child rear facing longer, we refer to the manufacturer's instructions.

Host: So what about for our little guys? Adding things to the car seat, like pillows and blankets, you know, should kids be kind of in minimum where when they're in those seats?

Tonya Randolph: Yes, it is recommended not to add or modify the car seat in any type of way, unless it's a product that comes directly from the manufacturer. During the winter months we recommend placing children in thin sweaters, no bulky jackets or blankets when you're harnessing the child in because the whole purpose of the car seat is to make sure that the harness is placed as close to the child's body as possible. So adding thick blankets and jackets and coats during the winter actually takes away from the protection that may be provided in a car crash. And when you add the toys or the different non-regulated products like the head inserts or the harness covers, again, it's taking away from the protection that the car seat may provide in a car crash.

Host: So when can parents turn the child around? Because that's really a big question that they have. And then we'll get into when they can go to booster seats and when they can even sit in the seat with just a seatbelt. But when can they turn them around? Is it based more on height and weight or is age play a factor as well?

Tonya Randolph: Age, weight, and height can play a factor in it. Most car seats, again will tell you at the age of two you can turn them forward facing. Some of them tell you one year, 22 pounds, 28 inches. So again, it just all varies on the parents. We go with that longer recommendation, keeping them rear facing a minimum to age two or until they outgrow the seat height or weight, whichever comes first.

Host: What should we be looking for, Tonya, when we're buying a new car seat? Most hospitals you can't even leave without a car seat that's properly placed, when you have your newborn. What do parents look for when they are buying their first car seat and is it okay to buy them at a garage sale or to use somebody else's? Tell us a little bit about that.

Tonya Randolph: As far as recommendations when shopping for car seats, we tell parents to look for a car seat that they will be comfortable with making changes to the car seat as well as one that's compatible with their vehicle, that they will be able to install correctly each and every time if they remove the seat for any reasons. We tell parents to look at the height and weight limits of the car seats to make sure they can use the seat for a longer period of time. Because as we know, car seats can be very expensive. And again, some of the seats that extend to higher weight and height limits will be able to be used for a longer period of time in the rear facing position. As far as used car seats, car seats you don't know the history on, we don't recommend purchasing car seats from thrift stores, consignment stores, yard sales, or flea markets because you don't know the full history of a car seat. What you would be looking for is to make sure that the car seat hadn't been involved in a car crash, that the padding and harnesses hadn't been changed out of the car seat, that the harnesses haven't been washed in the machine or with chemicals. So it's kind of hard to determine all those factors if it's a used car seat and you don't know the original owner of the car seat.

Host: What a great point, Tonya, and as every parent who has had children go from the forward facing to a booster seat, knows that kids are eager to get out of those car seats and get into a booster seat and then get rid of that booster seat as fast as they can. My kids were little and so I didn't let them out of those car seats and then the booster seats until they were like 12 years old. They hated me, but what about that? When can we put them in booster seats from that front facing what is supposed to be the height limit for that so the seatbelt can fit properly.

Tonya Randolph: Most parents believe once the child is about eight years old, four foot nine inches tall, that they can be placed into a seatbelt. They would outgrow their booster seat at that point. Again, the recommendations have all changed, so we're actually recommending that parents keep the children in booster seats until they outgrow the seat with the height or weight limit. Typically booster seats will go anywhere up to 80 pounds. Some will go up to 125 pounds and up to 57 inches. So again, the recommendation is to keep them in that booster seat until they max out weight or height, whichever came first.

Host: Where is the seatbelt supposed to hit a child as they sit in the booster seat and then even transitioning them to just a plain old backseat. How is that seatbelt supposed to sit across their chest?

Tonya Randolph: Should fit right across the collarbone, right on the child's collarbone and the lap belt would go on the lower hip area of the child.

Host: When you talk to parents about all of this and they have questions about whether they should register their car seat or should they put informational stickers on car seats in case of emergency, what's some good advice you tell parents about using car seats safely?

Tonya Randolph: We definitely recommend that parents register their car seat, even if it's a used car seat that you receive from a family member or friend just to ensure that you're notified of future recalls on car seats. So we definitely encourage parents to make sure that they registered their car seat with the manufacturer because again, if it's recalled, they don't have to go through a third party, the company will contact them directly as far as the recall and what they need to do to repair the recall or if the seat needs to be replaced. As far as having the seat checked, we always tell parents to schedule an appointment with the technician if they, you know, want to make sure that their car seats installed correctly. And then we also refer them to the manufacturer’s websites because most of them now have videos on how to install the car seat if parents have those questions.

Host: Where can parents find out more? Tell us a little bit about the Children's Wellness and Safety Center.

Tonya Randolph: Our Children's Wellness and Safety Center has a child passenger safety program where we provide car seat inspections as well as we have a car seat safety program. Where we partner throughout Hillsborough County where we provide car seats for families that's in need. Our car seat inspection programs are scheduled directly through our contact center. Each appointment is about 45 minutes long. The parents come in, we like for them to try to practice installing the car seat into their vehicle. If they're uncomfortable with that, they can wait until they actually come to their appointment. And what it is, the technician takes time to go over the car seat. There are different options as far as how to install the car seat into the car and make adjustments that need to be made. They'll do a demonstration on how to install the car seat into the vehicle. The tech will remove the car seat and then allow the parent the opportunity to do the final install of the car seat just to make sure they completely understand again how to install the car seat if it's ever removed for any reason.

Host: Then wrap it up for us, Tonya, it's really great information. What do you tell parents every single day about car seat safety and the importance of following those recommendations and keeping our kids rear facing for as long as possible.

Tonya Randolph: We always encourage our parents again to make sure we're following the manufacturer's instructions. Rear facing will provide better protection for the child in a car crash. A lot of parents are concerned with how the child's foot will hit the back of the seat. And again, we just encourage them to have rear facing and the longer the better. Some kids like the criss cross applesauce and we just want to make sure that their parents are using the car seats correctly.

Host: Thank you so much. It's really great information and so important for parents to hear. To learn more about the Children's Wellness and Safety Center, please visit for more information. That concludes this episode of BayCare HealthChat. Please remember to subscribe, rate, and review this podcast and all the other BayCare podcasts. I'm Melanie Cole.