Safe Kids Commentary

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Five years ago, shortly after partnering with the Sheriff’s Office to begin a Safe Kids coalition in Macon County, I went through a course to become a certified car seat technician. During the rigorous five-day course, taught by experts who traveled to Franklin from Raleigh, I learned all about the most common mistakes when installing a car seat, I learned which car seat is best for a child’s age or size, and even which seat is best based on a specific vehicle. We practiced installation on dolls before finishing the week with a free car seat safety inspection station for the community. 

Over the last five years, as the chairman of Safe Kids Macon County, I have organized a dozen car seat safety events that have checked more than 500 car seats. Sometimes those car seat checks were for my friends or coworkers, but most of them were for complete strangers who I have not spoken to since. It is widely known that car seat safety is a great passion of mine and something I constantly advocate for. 

Last Friday, all of those years of car seat safety and helping others became my own reality when I got a phone call that my mother and my four-year-old niece were in a rollover accident. Their vehicle didn’t just roll over, but it rolled off the bank and landed upside down in a creek. My husband and I rushed to the scene and by the time we got there, both my mother and niece were safely out of the vehicle. Seeing that car upside down with water rushing through the inside was gut wrenching. I immediately began searching for my mother and niece who were in the ambulance. Worst case scenario flashed through my head. The car was so damaged, I was terrified of how I would find them. 

When I opened the ambulance door, I saw my niece. She had a few scratches on her cheek from the broken glass from the back windshield, but otherwise she was safe. And that is when it hit me. She was safe because her Graco five-point harness saved her life. Had she been in a booster seat, or had the seat not been properly installed, there is no question in my life she would have been seriously injured in that horrific accident. But she wasn’t. A man passing by shortly after the accident jumped in the river and cut the seatbelt that was holding her into the car. She was dangling upside down in the car, but the five-point harness of her seat kept her secured. He carried her out of the creek, still fully secured in her car seat. 

As her aunt, I am beyond grateful for the string of events that kept her safe that day. As a car seat technician, I know it was no coincidence. As a petite four-year-old, my sister had made the right decision of keeping Wren in a five-point harness car seat. That means on impact, there were five-points of impact that lessened the injury across her body and helped absorb the impact during the accident. Had my sister made the mistake, which is all too common, of transitioning Wren to a booster seat too early, we would not have had the same outcome. The car seat was properly installed inside the car. It’s was secured with a seatbelt, which was locked, which kept it secured against the car seat even though the car was flipped upside down. The straps were snug against Wren’s body, and the harness was by her armpits, which ensured that her little body didn’t slip out while it dangled upside down. All things I have preached and scolded and annoyed my sisters to do for their children, and even strangers to do for theirs… while they seem nit picky or aggravating at the time, in the event of an accident those are the very things that will save a child’s life, as they did for my niece on Friday. 

My mother was also able to walk away from the accident with a minor concussion and a few scratches, undoubtedly because her seatbelt also kept her safe. 

Car seat safety is something that you never think you need – until you do. That is why as chairman of Safe Kids Macon County, I have worked with incredible volunteers to grow the list of local technicians available to check your child’s car seat for free at anytime. If you haven’t had your seat checked, please do so today. Christmas time is a heavy travel season and ensuring your child is in the right seat, and the seat is properly installed could mean the difference in life and death. 

To have your child’s seat checked, contact the Macon County Sheriff’s Annex, the Franklin Police Department, or the Highlands Police Department, the Franklin Fire Department, or the Otto Fire Department, all of which have made it a priority to have certified car seat technicians on staff to help.

Brittney Lofthouse 

Safe Kids Macon County Chairman  

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