Nicole Capozello is a certified Child Passenger Safety Technician (CPST). She works on the Mother Baby unit at Beaumont Hospital, Troy providing car seat safety education for parents in their rooms before they take their new babies home.
What education/training is needed to be a CPST?
In order to become a CPST, a person needs to take an intensive 4-day training course and pass both written and practical exams. The class ensures that the technician is familiar with all types of car seats and vehicle restraint systems, as well as the best practices for the use of child passenger restraint systems for children of different ages and sizes.
In order to maintain their certification, CPSTs need to participate in community events providing car seat installation assistance and information, complete a required number of continuing education hours, and pass proficiency evaluations with respect to five different kinds of car seats. I tell people regularly that it takes more time and effort to keep my CPST certification than it takes me to maintain my law license.
What advice do you give to new parents when shopping for a car seat?
The best advice I can give to parents shopping for a new car seat is try the seat in your car before you buy it. Some baby stores will allow parents to test out their floor model seats in their cars before buying them. This allows parents to ensure that the seat fits in their vehicle and is easy to use and install before they buy it.
What advice do you give parents/caregivers that surprises them the most?
The information I give parents that surprises them the most is that car seats have expiration dates. The plastic and the foam in car seats breaks down over time and eventually loses its ability to protect a child as well as it did when it was new.
Some seats give a specific expiration date and the ones that don't expire in 6 years. I always recommend that parents check the dates their car seat were manufactured (that information can usually be found on a sticker underneath the seat), and make sure to stop using them once they've expired.
The best thing to do with an expired seat is either cut the straps and throw it out (cutting the straps makes sure that no one can “rescue” the seat from the garbage and continue using an unsafe seat), or take advantage of the buy back programs at the big baby stores to get a discount on a new seat.
What is the most common mistake people make when putting in a car seat?
The most common mistakes I see people make when installing their car seats are not putting the seats in tight enough or adding unsafe products to their seats and vehicles. Car seats should be installed, either with a seat belt or the LATCH system, so that they don't move more than one inch from side to side or front to back. You can check the tightness of the fit of the car seat by placing one hand on the seat where you find the seat belt or LATCH belt and try to shift the seat. If it moves more than one inch, the belt needs to be tightened.
Parents also often put unnecessary and often dangerous products in their car seats and vehicles. Mirrors that allow parents to see baby when they are rear facing are dangerously distracting, and products that go under the baby to provide warmth or protection from spills and leaks can cause the baby too much movement in an accident, which can lead to injury. The best rule of thumb is: nothing should go in the car seat that didn't come with the car seat, other than the baby.
What is the benefit of having a car seat installed by a certified tech versus doing it yourself?
The benefit of having your car seat installed by a certified tech versus doing it yourself is, quite simply, peace of mind. Even if you read your car seat manual and your vehicle manual before you install your seat, there is still information that a CPS tech has that can make your seat installation safer. Having a professional assist with your seat installation gives you the peace of knowing that your seat is as safe as it can be.
Is a used car seat as good as a new one?
A used car seat CAN be as good as a new one, but ONLY IF you know the history of the seat. A car seat's safety is compromised when it is stored improperly, and car seats are no longer safe once they've been involved in an accident. Also, most car seats expire six years from their manufacture date, but if the seat's labels are missing, this can be impossible to determine. Therefore, a used car seat obtained from a stranger can very well be unsafe. If obtained from a close friend or family member, when a parent can be assured that it has not been stored in extreme temperatures, or involved in an accident, a used car seat can be as safe as a new one.
However, I would absolutely recommend against ever getting a seat from a garage sale, Mom to Mom sale or from an online resale site. I also advise parents who get a used seat from family or friends to register the car seat in their names. They should go on-line to the manufacturer's website and register the seat in their names, thereby ensuring that they will receive any potential recall notices affecting the safety of their seat.
What is the best part of your job?
The best part of my job is watching parents confidently buckle their new babies into their car seats using the new knowledge that they've gained. I love knowing that I both helped to keep the baby safe and eased the minds of the parents by giving them the tools they need to ensure that their child travels safely throughout their childhood.
It's pretty cool to be able to answer the question, “What do you do for a living?” by saying, “I keep babies safe.”
Where can somebody find a complete list of car seat age/weight/height restrictions and recommendations?
The best place to find a complete list of car seat restrictions and recommendations is on the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) website, which offers comprehensive information on how to pick, install and use car seat for children at all stages of development.