Car crashes remain the leading cause of death for children under 13 and surveys find many Iowans don’t know how to properly install or use a child car seat.

Tammy Fleshner, spokeswoman for the Butler County Department of Health, says car seat misuse in Iowa is tracking as high as 95 percent.

“If your child’s car seat has expired — because they have expiration dates — if they’ve been in a crash and show signs that they definitely need to be replaced, or maybe it’s just the totally wrong seat your child,” Fleshner says. “The state has definite laws about child passenger safety and what type of seat they should be in, but that’s not always the best practice.”

Several factors contribute to so many misused car seats, including the high number of different vehicles on the roads today. Fleshner says misuse isn’t intentional, but it needs to be addressed to save lives.

“It might be perfect for them today and in six months from today, it’s not,” Fleshner says. “We know our caregivers, our parents, our grandparents want to do the best thing, it’s just that they don’t have the knowledge to make sure it’s right. There’s a lot of us out there pushing to make sure the kids our safe. They’re our most precious cargo. We want to make sure they stay safe.”

Potential car seat buyers should be wary of car seats at garage sales. One instance from a garage sale remains in Fleshner’s mind. “The gentleman says, ‘That’s a really good seat, it saved my grandson’s life,’ and we found out it was in a car crash, the car was totaled,” she says. “Yes, the child was saved, but now that seat is no longer good. Car seats are made for one crash only.”

Many county health departments and law enforcement agencies across Iowa offer free car seat inspections, typically by appointment.

(By Mark Freie, KLMJ, Hampton)