News & Events

Kids and car seats

How nurses can help save lives miles away from the bedside

From the Massachusetts Nurse Newsletter
April 2009 Edition

By Jennifer Johnson

Ask anyone over the age of 30 to describe what car rides with Mom and Dad were like back in the good old days and here is a smattering of what you might hear:

“We all used to pile into the way-back of the station wagon and play back there, and we’d just kind of roll back and forth across the floor when Dad would go around corners.”
        —Erin, age 42

“I used to sit underneath the dashboard on the passenger’s side and pretend that I was the radio. I’d be singing and doing my own intros.”
        —Jennifer, age 36

“We’d drive the family truck to Maine each year for vacation, and this is how my Dad would pack the truck: put a mattress down on the truck bed, pack all of our vacation gear around the mattress, and then pile the kids on top of the mattress with pillows and some snacks. And then we’d drive three hours to our camp site in Maine.”
        —Matt, age 39

Stories like these make the grown-ups who tell them laugh all while marveling at how they survived childhood at all. But the sad truth is that too many children never made it to adolescence due to motor vehicle crashes and the fact that they were not restrained in an appropriate car seat.

Thankfully, things are different today. States have rules and regulations about what types of car seats are safe for children depending on their age, height and weight and there is a whole business sector dedicated to offering consumers a wide range of appropriate car seats.

It’s all in the installation
But even with plenty of rules, regulations and products in place there are still too many children being hurt or killed in auto-related crashes. Why? Because it is common for child restraint systems to be installed and used incorrectly.

In fact one study found that a shocking 72 percent of nearly 3,500 inspected car and booster seats were misused in a way that could be expected to actually increase a child’s risk of injury during a crash.

It was statistics like these that led the state of Massachusetts to implement an important public safety program: The Massachusetts Child Passenger Safety Program (

According to Kym Craven, the director of the program, the goal of the program is three-fold. “We want to bring educational training to parents, caregivers and advocates about child passenger safety law, the ins and outs of car seat selection, and the specifics of car seat installation—all with the goal of keeping children safe as they travel the commonwealth’s roadways.”

The 32-hour course, which runs over four consecutive days, is offered at various locations throughout the state on an ongoing basis and is available free of charge to anyone interested. “Absolutely anyone can participate in this program,” said Craven. “Public safety officials, teachers, health care providers, parents—anyone. And at the end of the program participants are certified as [child passenger safety] technicians.”

Craven went on to explain that the involvement of nurses and other health care professionals in the program—and in the wider community after they have become certified technicians—has been key to the success of the Massachusetts Child Passenger Safety Program. “Nurses are quite often the first and last people who help new families as they’re leaving the hospital with their infants and, as a result, they have a unique opportunity to help families understand the importance of car seat safety,” said Craven. “We’d love to see more nurses become involved with the program.”

Why this program? Why now?
In 2005 1,335 children ages 14 years and younger died as occupants in motor vehicle crashes, and approximately 184,000 more were injured. That’s an average of four deaths and 504 injuries each day. For advocates of child passenger safety laws, that number is unbearable. “Those numbers shrink as our [car seat] technicians bring their newfound expertise back to the commonwealth’s communities,” explained Craven.

The program’s coursework has been described as intense but invaluable. “We’ve had so many technicians tell us that they were surprised by both the amount of and variation in content that is covered in this program,” added Craven. “But we also always hear how invaluable the program is for both the student and the community they are aiming to serve.”

Topics that are covered in the program’s coursework include the myths and realities of car collisions; a thorough review of the different types of seat belts, latch plates, etc.; an overview of crash dynamics; a comprehensive review of all of the car seats that children will eventually use (i.e., infant seats, toddler seats, booster seats); and a complete primer on how to organize and hold a “check-up event” (an event where the public is invited to have their car seats installations reviewed).

From there, the course work gets very hands on. In one instance students will be asked to select (and install . . . and then evaluate) the correct car seat for a child based on their age, height and weight. Next up, students need to “inspect” a variety of sample seats that have been incorrectly stalled in a vehicle. Students then have a chance to test their car seat expertise by fielding questions from a [mock] caregitver. And lastly, students must organize and host a check-up event. “The check-up event is key,” said Craven. “It is just a great way to reach the general community.”

How and why to get involved
Why should you get involved? Because among children under the age of 5, in 2006, an estimated 425 lives were saved by car and booster seat use. That’s a lot of lives, and the more involvement there is from nurses and others the more likely it is that number will increase by leaps and bounds.

Not sure if you are up for becoming a technician? According to Craven there are numerous ways to get involved. “Not everyone can be a technician,” she explained, “but we’re about building partnerships. As a result, we can find a role for anyone who may be interested in supporting us.”

To learn more, visit or send an e-mail to Be sure to label the subject line as “cps tech training” and to include your first and last name within the text of your message.