According to a test done by researchers at car-safety.org, motor vehicle crashes are the No. 1 killer of children between the ages of 1 and 14. Nearly half of the deaths of children younger than 5 resulted because the children were not restrained. Of those that were restrained, 80 to 95 percent of the deaths were in cases of reported misuse of the restraints.
Thankfully, Dagsboro’s Sgt. Harry Litten — one of the few registered child car-seat inspectors in the area — is available to help parents, guardians and children avoid this risk.
“I enjoy helping others and ensuring their safety,” he explained.
Litten, who originally took the car-seat inspection course in 2002 when working in Ellendale, has been ensuring safety for a number of years, returning as needed for updated courses. He recently completed his most recent recertification and offers his knowledge and wisdom to those wishing to live safer and more prudent lives.
“The people are great,” he said. “It’s just a matter doing the activities. If you don’t inform people that the service is there, you won’t have a lot of people seeking it out. A lot of people call up to schedule a check just from word of mouth.”
Initially, when he first became certified, there were no car-seat fitting stations in Sussex County, simply a few technicians.
The program, originally operated and regulated under National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), incorporates a number of inspections and checks, including child restraints, seat belts and occupant safety.
“It used to be that tighter was better. Now, security is still important, but when securing a seat, it shouldn’t be able to move more than an inch to either side,” he emphasized.
“Most of the time, every car seat is going to get moved at one time or another. You might rearrange seats for other passengers in the back, or you might be carrying other cargo. It’s good that you know how to install the seats yourself,” he added.
Although Litten has seen a variety of parents and guardians come in for seat fitting, he stated there were usually repeat “customers” requesting his assistance.
“Occasionally, you’ll get other people,” he said, “but a lot of the time, I’d see the same people. Nowadays, it’s a little different, because there’s continuing certification. It calls for attendance at different events, where you learn proper inspection of a number of different car seats. If you’re not going to these events, you’re not getting the education and information you need.”
“You can put any number of child-seat techs in a room,” explained Litten, “and one tech would have experience with a seat that no other one has. There are always new ones coming out.”
LATCH (Lower Anchors and Tethers for CHildren) and top tether designs have been popularized in most vehicles since 2003. While age has some control over how long a child is required in various states use a car seat, as they mature, weight and height are critical when determining a child’s safety in the car.
For example, positioning an infant’s seat facing toward the front or the back relies heavily on the child’s size.
In addition to proper installation of car seats, there are a variety of things that people need to be aware of in regard to children’s safety in a car. One common misconception that many people have is that it’s safer to ride with an infant on their lap.
“Other people don’t use seat belts, stating that they’re better off if they’re thrown clear of the crash,” said Litten. “That’s a lie. People thrown from the vehicle are four times more likely to be killed than those who remain inside.”
Litten said believes a number of people also refuse to get their child seats inspected because they may fear a fine or some sort.
“If somebody asks me to check their car seat,” he said, “I’m not going to be looking for a ticket. The goal is that they leave safer than they were when they got here. That’s what I worry about.”
For more information about proper child car-seat security and other concerns about automotive safety, or to schedule a child car-seat safety inspection on your vehicle, contact Litten at the Dagsboro police department at (302) 732-3777.