A community service officer at the Pratt Police Station can teach parents to put seats in correctly.

The most precious cargo in a vehicle is a child. Protecting the child from injury in an accident is a priority for anyone operating a vehicle.

The best method for child safety is a properly installed and used car seat. Having a car seat does no good if it isn't used or might not give adequate protection if improperly installed.

"It is so important that your child is in the seat properly and the seat is properly installed," said Lyda Kasselman, Pratt Police Community Service officer.

Kansas' law dictates that a child must be in a car seat until they are eight years old or reach a height of four feet, nine inches or reach a weight of 80 pounds, Kasselman said.

Law enforcement officers can stop a vehicle for not having a child in a child seat and issue a citation without the driver or vehicle having any other violation.

Car seats are designed to reduce the force on the body in an accident. When properly installed, the car seatbelt should cover the hipbones and the collarbone rather than the abdomen and neck. A properly installed booster seat can provide the same level of protection.

It is surprising how many children are still unrestrained or how many people just carry a child on their lap. During an accident, especially a rollover, an unrestrained child can be tossed about violently inside the vehicle or be thrown out and suffer critical or fatal injuries.

"We used to do that and think nothing of it but we know better now," Kasselman said. "The odds are much better inside the vehicle than outside."

Car seats come in a variety styles for all types of vehicles. Each seat comes with instructions that include information about the child's height and weight the seat was designed to hold.

The instructions also detail the proper way to install the seat for maximum protection. Some vehicle owner's manuals also have car seat installation instructions for that particular vehicle, Kasselman said.

The best location for a car seat is in the back seat and in the middle of the seat is preferred. However, always refer to the installation and owners manuals because some vehicles don't allow for a seat in the middle. The back seat is recommended to prevent any injury if an airbag goes off.

Some people may think having a child in a car seat is just to meet the legal state requirements but the main issue should be safety.

"We need to think of it from a safety standpoint because safety is the concern," Kasselman said.

If someone is having trouble installing a car seat and needs some help, Kasselman will help the person at the Law Enforcement Center free of charge. It takes about a half hour for a training session but when its done, the driver will know the proper way to install the seat and how to properly buckle the child in the seat.

Purchasing a new car seat is preferable. Drivers should be cautious about purchasing a car seat at a garage sale or from a second hand store.

It is important to know the history of a car seat and if they have been in a crash.

Car seats also have expiration dates and should not be used when they have passed that date. The plastic in car seats are affected by the extremes of cold and heat in a vehicle though the years. Most car seats are designed to last six years. Some of the more expensive models can last up to 10 years.

The price range can range from $40 to several hundred with all the bells and whistles.

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