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Safety October 18, 2017

How Saving Loudoun’s Littles Inspired Virginia Tire & Auto to Keep Your Kids Safe

On Tuesday, Oct. 10, the team Virginia Tire & Auto’s South Riding store in Loudoun County held one of its free car seat inspection clinics. Over 20 local parents came to ensure that their children’s car safety seats were properly installed and inspected by a trained and certified professional.

A trained professional? Is that really necessary?

We asked Peter Jaworski, one of Virginia Tire & Auto’s installers on the scene. That’s something you may not know about Virginia Tire & Auto: we have four team members who have each received over 40 hours of car seat installation training. If that seems like a lot of time in the classroom, consider how many different kinds of car safety seats there are — and how many different kinds of cars.

“Every scenario has its own challenges,” he said. “Just now, the vehicle I was working on had two individual systems you can use to install the seat. You can use the seatbelt, or you can use what is called the LATCH system, which is a pair of anchor points in the seat. A lot of people think that you use both, because more is better, right? But you’re not supposed to do that because the manufacturer doesn’t test that. Most people just wouldn’t know.”

No parent would intentionally make a mistake during car seat installation, but a harried mom or dad may miss something that could later be devastating. There are some things that are best left to the pros.

So how did Virginia Tire & Auto get involved with car seat inspection? It began with a teenage Girl Scout.

car seat installation

Virginia is for Drivers

Before we get into the history of the program, let’s consider how much we drive. Every day, across the state of Virginia, commuters, travelers and the guy who keeps nosing into your lane because he’s clearly talking on his phone combine for nearly 231 million daily vehicle miles traveled. That’s a lot of driving.

Now consider that the most important vehicle safety device for a young child is a car seat. This is not a mystery. Over the past 30 years, child motor vehicle crash deaths have fallen by over 50 percent. Every state in the U.S. (and Washington, D.C.) has child safety seat laws, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

Of course, simply passing a law and telling people they have to behave a certain way doesn’t guarantee a happy ending. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention found that as many as 618,000 children under the age of 12 ride unrestrained “at least some of the time.”

That’s terrifying. And while you can’t excuse that behavior, you can begin to understand why people may think it’s OK to take a short trip without a car seat after you’ve tried to tried to securely install one yourself.

“Anyone can get a car seat into the vehicle,” says Julie Holmes, president of Virginia Tire and Auto and mother of five. “But the question is whether you can get it right. Is it tight enough? Is it secure? When you look at the manual, the directions can seem like hieroglyphics. It can be intimidating. It takes time to do it correctly, and even then, you’re asking yourself, ‘Do I have this exactly right?’”

“I think I became aware of how tricky these could be,” says Meg Mikhail, mother of 16-month-old Connor and a Northern Virginia resident, “when I tried to install a car seat myself and then had my dad and my husband look at it. We all realized that none of us knew what we were doing.”

car seat installation

Who’s Going to Make Sure I’m Doing This Right?

Ideally, you’d want a professional to install the seat, or at least make sure that you handled the car seat installation correctly yourself. In many cities and towns, local law enforcement handles car seat inspection. So just cruise on down to the police station, yes?

Well, no. Police, as you can imagine, are often busy. There isn’t always a certified car safety seat inspector in the building. When law enforcement agencies do have car safety seat inspections, you may be able to cruise right to the front of the line — or you may find yourself backed up in a queue so long there’s no guarantee you’ll even see the expert.

The issue was put stark relief in Northern Virginia when, in 2007, Loudoun County ended its car seat inspection service. Loudoun residents with car seat installation questions had to motor over to Fairfax or Prince William County for answers.

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And the Children Shall Lead

In 2015, then-eighth grader Arianna Wright and her friend, Nicole Brinson, volunteered at a car seat safety check in Ashburn. According to a story in The Loudoun Times, they were shocked by the volume of families at the event — so many, in fact, that the event ended before all car seats could be inspected.

With the help of her Scout Leader (and mom), Sharon Wright, Arianna launched Saving Loudoun’s Littles — One Car Seat at a Time. Over the past two years, the program has hit some amazing milestones:

  • More than 50 Loudoun County individuals have been trained to be National Safe Kids technicians.
  • Over 70 car seat inspections at two locations in the have been held, along with car seat inspection programs through partners like the Arcola Volunteer Fire Department, the Ashburn Volunteer Fire and Rescue Department, the Purcellville Volunteer Fire Company, Virginia Tire & Auto, Ted Britt Chevrolet and John Lindsay Volkswagen.
  • Nearly 1,000 car seats have been inspected.
  • Three National Safe Kids training courses have been held in Arcola and Purcellville — reportedly the first classes to be held in Loudoun County in the last decade.
  • More than 25 car seat inspection events will be held in the region by the end of the year.

“We Know the Work We Are Doing is Saving Lives”

“The car seat inspection program in Loudoun County was all but discontinued prior to the formation of Saving Loudoun’s Littles in the fall of 2015,” Arianna notes. “Based on the extraordinary growth of our county over the past 10 years and the expected growth over the next five years, it was incredibly important to bring this life-saving program to our residents. Together, we have moved mountains to grow this program to the level it enjoys today.”

People have noticed. Arianna was named Volunteer of the Year in June 2017 by Loudoun Cares. Both Arianna and Sharon received the Sheriff’s Leadership Award in August 2017.

“We know the work we are doing is saving lives,” Arianna explains. “The national statistic that 74 to 90 percent of car seats are installed incorrectly is proving to be true to the letter. If we can save the life of just one child through our work, we will know that it was worthwhile.”

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Locked In:  Virginia Tire & Auto Launched Its Car Seat Clinics

The United States Census Bureau reports that 6.1 percent of the state’s population is under the age of five. Given that we have 8,411,808 people here in the Old Dominion, that’s roughly 504,708 newborns, infants, toddlers, tykes and nursery schoolers who may be riding in cars with their parents, grandparents and caretakers at any given time.

The parents of those kids are well aware of how much traffic is out there.

“I’m definitely more aware of who’s stopping, who’s not, who’s by you and who’s in your blind spot,” adds Rebekah Beacher, a Northern Virginia parent and the mother of two-year-old Luke. “It’s just a fact of life. I don’t necessarily think about it all of the time, but if I find myself on the big roads, like 95, where people are constantly weaving in and out…Yeah, then I feel a little bit differently.”

When Julie Holmes and the team at Virginia Tire & Auto read about Arianna’s work with Saving Loudoun’s Littles, the combination clicked  immediately. A partnership made perfect sense.

Another factoid about Virginia Tire & Auto: it is a family business with over 40 years of automotive service in Northern Virginia. Saving Loudoun’s Littles helps families. The two lined right up.

“It was a great cause and a natural fit,” Julie says. “We fix and maintain vehicles. We have the people with the technical expertise. We’re a local, family-owned business, and this is a hyperlocal effort. We saw an article about the program in the newspaper, and the idea was born that we’d certify our employees and host these Car Seat Clinics. It just made sense.”

car seat installation

The Right Seat, Installed the Right Way

It’s not easy being a parent. There’s always something new coming along to let you know that the old way you were told to do things is wrong.

For example: Sasha Emmons of Parenting.com reports that The American Academy of Pediatrics “now advises parents to keep toddlers in rear-facing car seats until age two, or until they exceed the height or weight limit for the car seat, which can be found on the back of the seat.”

Parents are interested in milestones, and the minimum of one year and 20 pounds has been interpreted as gold standard instead of the minimum,” Dr. Ben Hoffman, an associate professor of pediatrics at the University of New Mexico, told Emmons. “Parents are always looking for the next stage of development because, in every other scenario, that’s a good thing. With car safety seats, however, that’s often not the case…it’s minimally acceptable to change to forward-facing at a year, but parents can do better than that.”

There are exceptions. Taking your car seat and your child to a car seat clinic is one way you know you’re getting it right.

“We’re talking about precious cargo here,” Julie says. “It’s something we feel strongly about. Safety matters, and this makes a real difference. I’m grateful we’ve had a chance to help. We’re happy to do it.”

When is Virginia Tire and Auto’s Next Car Seat Clinic?

If you’d like to have your car safety seats inspected by a certified pro, sign up now for a free session at one of Virginia Tire and Auto’s Loudoun County locations.

Please note: Car seat inspections can take up to 20 minutes depending on the number of seats you need inspected. Please allow for extra time if you have more than two seats in your vehicle.

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