North Carolina law requires children riding in a vehicle to use a car seat or booster seat until they are at least 8 years old or 80 pounds and the vehicle seat belt fits properly on its own.

Making sure the child’s seat is installed properly can save their life. In 2013, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, if child safety seat use had been at 100 percent, an estimated 319 toddler and infant lives could have been saved.

Safe Kids Bladen County and the Elizabethtown Fire Department offered free checks of car seat installation Thursday afternoon. The event was part of Child Passenger Safety Week proclaimed by Gov. Pat McCrory for Sept. 13-19.

“We check to make sure the seat is installed correctly,” said Jamie Smith, who took a 40-hour training course to become a certified passenger safety technician. “We make sure the child is the right fit for their seat. Most of the time what I see is people are just unaware of proper installation.”

It can be something as simple as a loose harness or the angle of the seat that puts a child at more risk in case of an accident, says Julia Phelps, who is the region coordinator for SafeKids Cape Fear.

“A lot of parents are unaware of the intricacies of how seats work, and unaware all seats are different, all vehicles are different,” Phelps said, “You have a lot of variables. Even though parents are well intentioned, and nobody puts their child in a seat thinking it’s wrong, there’s just so many variables. It’s best to have a second set of eyes.”

The UNC Highway Safety Research Center suggests the following for using car seats:

** Use rear-facing car seats as long as possible, but at least until a child is 2 years old or until they reach the upper weight or height limit allowed by child seat’s manufacturer. Most current rear-facing and convertible seats can be used rear-facing for children up to at least 30 to 35 pounds.

** When children outgrow their rear-facing seats, they should ride in forward-facing car seats with harnesses until they reach the upper weight or height limit for the seat. The upper limits can range from 40 to 90 pounds, depending on the model.

** Once children outgrow the harness of their forward-facing seats, they should ride in booster seats until the seat belt fits properly on its own.

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