The issue of the proper use of child safety seats was thrust into the spotlight following the announcement of criminal accusations against a Northeast Kingdom driver involved in a car crash that resulted in the death of her young passenger.
This week, Vermont State Police cited Christina Deslandes, 25, of Island Pond, Vermont, into Essex County court on November 17.
Investigators said on August 16, Deslandes crashed into a telephone pole on Route 114 in Brighton with a 3-year-old riding in her front seat. The child was not in a proper child seat, and had no form of seat belt on, police said. The pre-schooler died from injuries in that wreck.
Vermont State Police said Deslandes is expected to face involuntary manslaughter charges related to reckless endangerment and criminal negligence, as well as charges of gross careless and negligent operation of a motor vehicle, and cruelty to a child.
Deslandes was not wearing a seat belt and sustained minor injuries in the August crash, police said.
Late Tuesday, Vermont State Police identified the 3-year-old boy as Bentley Castrogiovanni, and said he was the child of Deslandes.
Police said alcohol or drugs were not factors in the crash.
Brett LaRose, the child passenger safety program coordinator for the Vermont Department of Health, told necn proper restraints for children can reduce safety risks by up to 70 percent, and that crashes are the leading cause of death for children ages 3 to 14.
"They can definitely be the difference between life and death," LaRose said of car seats, when properly used.
LaRose said he wants parents to know little kids need to be in a backseat safety unit until they graduate to booster seats, and eventually, when they're big enough, to the car's main seat belts.
"The longer you can ride rear-facing, the better," LaRose said, noting that even though state law on rear-facing car seats covers infants under 1-year-old and 20 pounds, his suggestion is that parents should keep car seats rear-facing for longer.
LaRose also said eight out of ten car seats are used incorrectly; that straps may be too loose, or twisted, or that the seats may have other problems. He suggested parents read and re-read owner’s manuals for car seats very closely.
For more information on car seat safety, visit the website of the Vermont Department of Health's Be Seat Smart program.
That website contains a list of child safety seat fitting stations statewide. At those, parents can get free information on proper seat installation or maintenance from a certified technician. Many of those fitting stations do require an appointment.
"There's nothing more important than our children," said Williston firefighter and EMT David Auriemma, who said he performs several free car seat inspections each week at the Williston Fire Department, one of the car seat fitting stations on the list.
Auriemma said he advises parents to make a plan for their car seats well in advance of their first child's birth.
"Our recommendation is: plan ahead," Auriemma told necn. "If it's your first child, get your seat in a month, two months early. Get used to having that seat in the back of the car. Get used to taking it in and out without the child in it. Make it part of your routine."
Auriemma said parents should also get used to being good role models and use their own seat belts all the time. They should regularly remind children that they should always have their belts on or be in a proper car seat or booster seat while riding in a car, Auriemma suggested.
LaRose added that the Vermont Department of Health has a voucher program that helps parents or caregivers buy new car seats if they would otherwise struggle to afford them.
Additional information for consumers on car seat safety is available through a website maintained by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.