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Used child safety seats a bad bargain

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If you’re thinking about buying a child car seat at a garage sale, consider this: The local Head Start program just paid to have 300 old car seats destroyed. The reason? Officials didn’t want the 5-year-old car seats they use in their buses to be reused.

Unbeknownst to many, child safety seats have expiration dates, and the Muskegon Oceana Head Start seats had reached theirs, said Tom Spoelman, a transportation specialist with the Muskegon Area Intermediate School District.

So the MAISD, which operates the Head Start preschool program in the two counties, paid Community Recycling Services in Muskegon $200 to have the seats crushed so they wouldn’t be a temptation to others.

“Can you imagine 300 car seats out in a Dumpster?” Spoelman said.

The trouble with old car seats is the plastic can become brittle, compromising their ability to protect children, Spoelman said.

Muskegon-Oceana Head Start recently spent about $30,000 to buy all new child booster seats for its school buses. The program transports 750 children ages 3 and 4 to Head Start sites throughout Muskegon County. In Oceana County, Hart and Shelby school districts provide Head Start transportation.

Federal Head Start regulations dictate that programs adhere strictly to manufacturers’ recommendations for the life span of seats.

The other problem with picking up a used car seat at a garage sale is not knowing whether the seat has been in an accident, said Billy Walker III, a Muskegon Heights firefighter and public safety educator who performs safety inspections on car seats.

“If the car seat has been in any kind of accident, the seat could have been compromised,” Walker said.

Child safety seats should be replaced following a moderate or severe crash, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. They don’t have to be replaced following a minor crash, when the vehicle could be driven away, the door closest to the seat wasn’t damaged, no occupants were injured, air bags did not deploy and there was no visible damage to the car seat, according to the NHTSA.

If a car seat has been in a crash, the seat should be destroyed, not simply thrown away, Spoelman said.

“Don’t throw out an old one, because someone’s likely to come and get it out of the trash,” he said.

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