Program focuses on safe car seats
ESCANABA — The Escanaba Public Safety Department is the only law enforcement agency in Delta County involved in the Michigan Office of Highway Safety Planning’s car seat program.
The program, called Kids Always Ride Safely (KARS), has changed over the years, but the goal has remained the same — to make sure kids are safe and secure in their car seats.
Escanaba Public Safety Department Lt. John Gudwer initiated the program at the department in 2008 because he felt it was important to take an extra step in keeping kids safe and helping families facing financial difficulty have access to car seats for their children.
“Children don’t really have a choice. They can’t go out and buy their own car seat. They don’t have the ability to know that their percentage of being injured is increased so much by not being in a child restraint seat in a vehicle. I just wanted to help kids. I thought it was a really great program,” Gudwer said.
It is the law that all children must be properly buckled in a car seat or booster seat until they are at least 8 years old or 4 foot, 9 inches tall.
The KARS program provides families an opportunity to purchase car seats best suited for the child for a reduced price, as well as hands-on training with a child passenger safety technician.
The program works with the Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) program, but there is also an Extended Family program where caregivers do not have to be enrolled in WIC to take advantage of reduced prices.
Gudwer explained families can go to the local WIC office at Public Health, Delta Menominee Counties to purchase a car seat. He said they will be presented a voucher of the purchase, which they then can bring to the Escanaba Public Safety to have one of the child passenger safety technicians (CPST) install the car seat. During the installation, the CPST teaches how to properly use the car seat, and demonstrates how to properly install it and harness the child.
There are four different types of car seats within the program that can be purchased — infant, convertible, booster and combination.
Escanaba Public Safety has three child passenger safety technicians on staff — Gudwer, Public Safety Officer Dustin Stempki and Jennifer Spriks.
Although Stempki was at a different department at the time, both Stempki and Gudwer went through training in 2008. Spriks was certified in 2014.
Gudwer, Stempki and Spriks all agreed the training involved in becoming a child passenger safety technician is one of the hardest trainings they had ever gone through.
Child passenger safety technicians must re-certify every two years.
Gudwer said they provide the education sessions to not just people with a KARS voucher, but to anyone who wants to see if their car seats are properly installed.
Stempki noted that 90 percent of the time, car seats are not properly installed.
The Escanaba Public Safety Department’s car seat program has properly installed 42 car seats in 2019.
Spriks said last year they had installed 94.
When it comes to car seats and safety, there is more to it than just having a car seat properly installed.
Stempki explained although there is only one law involving car seats, there are a lot of recommendations to make sure children remain safe.
He said guardians should know when their car seat expires, which is six years after its manufacture date, and keep an eye on recall lists because car seats can be recalled.
He explained when purchasing a second-hand car seat, getting a history on it is extremely important because car seats should not be used if they had gone through a car accident.
According to Gudwer, when installing a car seat people should refer to the car seat’s manual and when it comes to the placement, people should refer to the car’s manual.
Gudwer said car seats may vary in prices, but all car seats have to meet the same minimum standards.
People do not have to be in law enforcement to be a child passenger safety technician.
Gudwer said if anyone wants to become a child passenger safety technician, they can contact Escanaba Public Safety at 906-786-5911 and ask for either Gudwer, Stempki or Spriks.
Gudwer said people could also get in contact with him through his email firstname.lastname@example.org.