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Program provides car seats to families in need

A state program administered by the Minnesota Department of Public (DPS) Safety Office of Traffic Safety has provided 4,591 car seats during the last two years to families in need.

The Child Passenger Restraint and Education Account addresses the needs of low-income families to transport children safely. Child passenger safety seat violations fund the account to pay for the car seats. The program began in 1994.

Families that meet low-income guidelines may be eligible to receive car seats. There are more than 100 locations statewide where car seats are distributed (listed at Car seats are made available through local public health offices, hospitals, law enforcement, fire departments and other agencies in partnership with DPS.

"The opportunity to make outreach to these families and assist them in protecting their children is critical to raising healthy families," says Heather Darby, DPS child passenger safety coordinator. "Traffic crashes are the leading killer of children age 14 and younger and this fact can be remedied with education and proper use of car seats."

Families who receive a car seat also receive an education and demonstration session from a trained child passenger safety technician to ensure they understand how to properly use the restraint.

When used correctly, child seats reduce the chance of death by 70 percent for infants less than 1 year old and by 54 percent for toddlers ages 1-4. A belt positioning booster with a lap-and-shoulder seat belt reduces a child's risk of injury by 59 percent.

A report about the Child Passenger Restraint and Education Account is developed by DPS every other year.

Minnesota Children Traffic Death and Injury Facts -- Last Five Years (2008-2012)

--30 children ages 0-7 were killed in crashes and only 37 percent were properly restrained.

--More than 16,000 children ages 0-7 were properly restrained and involved in traffic crashes -- a majority (86 percent) was not injured and 12 percent sustained only minor injuries.

Minnesota Child Car Seat Law and Steps

Minnesota statute requires all drivers to correctly place children under the age of eight in child safety seats, which includes booster seats. Here are the restraint steps a child should progress through as they age and grow:

--Rear-facing infant seats -- Newborns to at least 1 year and 20 pounds. Recommended up to age two. It is safest to keep a child rear-facing as long as possible.

--Forward-facing toddler seats -- Age 2 until around age 4. It's preferable to keep children in a harnessed restraint as long as possible.

--Booster seats -- Use once outgrown a forward-facing harnessed restraint; safest to remain in a booster until 4 feet 9 inches tall, or at least age 8.

--Seat belts -- A child is ready for an adult seat belt when they can sit with their back against the vehicle seat, knees bent comfortably and completely over the vehicle seat edge without slouching, and feet touching the floor. Children 4 feet 9 inches tall or more can correctly fit in a lap/shoulder belt.

Common Child Passenger Safety Mistakes

--Turning a child from a rear-facing restraint to a forward-facing restraint too soon.

--Restraint is not secured tight enough -- it should not shift more than one inch side-to-side or out from the seat.

--Harness on the child is not tight enough -- if you can pinch harness material, it's too loose.

--Retainer clip is up too high or too low -- should be at the child's armpit level.

--The child is in the wrong restraint -- don't rush your child into a seat belt.