Wrong. Well… really, it depends.
First thing is first: Get your car seat checked, even if you think you have it installed and are using it right! (Studies show 96% of parents think they did it right, while 75% of children are found to be restrained incorrectly.)
It used to be said, go to your local fire station and have them install your car seat or check for proper installation. And sometimes you can go to the firehouse for a car seat check. But not necessarily all the time or every firehouse or even every fire department.
Many fire departments moved away from having trained Child Passenger Safety Technicians on duty. Some fire departments don’t do any car seat checks at all any more and some have a few firefighters or public information officers who are trained and do car seat checks at certain times.
But wait, my friend went to the firehouse and they helped?
Unfortunately, some firefighters who are not CPS techs do help parents out of the kindness of their heart and their desire to help.
While their desire to help is really admirable, it could be bad for them and for parents. They are putting themselves at risk for liability, which is why many hospitals insist that nurses NOT help parents put their child in a car seat. (Though some hospitals, like the one we used to work for in Denver, do hire CPS techs to work with new parents. They teach the parents how to install the car seat in the car and how to put their new baby in the car seat properly.)
And parents may be getting misinformed.
Who should you trust for your car seat safety education if not your local fire station?
The statistics in the U.S. say 3 out of 4 car seats are being used incorrectly. Now that can range from minor misuse to a misuse that can cause serious or fatal injury in a crash.
One thing we hear often is, “well I took it to my local fire department” or “I took it to my police department and one of the guys came out and checked on it.”
Not every firefighter, police officer or nurse is a certified child passenger safety technician (aka car seat tech).
I got started as a car seat technician when I was still a young recruit firefighter back in 2000. At that time it was still common for fire departments to offer the service of inspecting people’s car seats and helping them install the car seat correctly.
But not every one on the department was certified. Although our department was proactive, there are many departments across the nation that don’t have anyone on the department that is a certified child passenger safety technician.
Meaning, when you show up at the firehouse for a car seat check, you may get a firefighter (or police officer or nurse, if you go to those places) whose heart is in the right place. They do what they do because they want to help people and want you to feel comfortable. Maybe they have a child or two and they think they know how to correctly do a car seat.
Download our report: Common Car Seat Mistakes and How to Fix Them
Where to turn for the best information?
The reality is unless you are a certified child passenger safety technician, you’re not aware of some of the nuances of different kinds of seat belt systems, different features on different car seats.
When you go to get help with your car seat make sure you go to a certified car seat technician. Then you will know you are getting the best information available.
On that note, you can’t trust your car seat safety information to your doctor either. Doctors are a specialist in the medical field and treating a human body. They are not necessarily an expert on injury prevention or car crashes.
Sometimes when you get information from a certified child passenger safety technician, you’ll realize it contradicts what other “experts” told you about keeping your kids safe in the car.
We want to help you have the best information available. And if you need a local technician to do a car seat check of your seat, go here to find a car seat technician near you. If you have everything right, you’ll have that peace of mind. If you don’t, then you know your baby will leave there safer!
We want to know, where have you gone for a car seat check? Share your comments below.
By Greg Durocher, CEO at Safe Ride 4 Kids and certified CPS Technician Instructor since 2002
Copyright 2019 Safe Ride 4 Kids. All rights reserved. You may not publish, broadcast, rewrite or redistribute this material without permission. You are welcome to link to Safe Ride 4 Kids or share on social media.
We originally published this post in April 2016. We updated the article for accuracy and comprehensiveness.