Did you know September is Baby Safety Month, culminating in Child Passenger Safety Week? There has never been a better time to get up to speed on how to keep your lil’ munchkin safe, sound and snuggly. One of the most important areas where we have the power to better protect our precious cargo is in the car. Car crashes are one of the greatest threats to our littles, but research by the CDC has shown that “using age- and size-appropriate child restraints (car seats, booster seats, and seat belts) is the best way to save lives and reduce injuries in a crash.” That’s why Mindr is so proud to partner with Britax, which has been leading the way in child safety technology for more than 70 years. Last month, we worked together to bring you the Go Guide, to usher you off on your most exciting travels in safety and style. And today, we’re back again to showcase one of the inspirational mamas at Britax who is hustling day in, day out, to keep our kiddos safe. Meet Sarah Tilton, a national leader in car safety for children.

Sarah, thank you so much for everything you do. Can you share with us what brought you into this line of work? What inspired you to spend your career hustling to keep families safe?

The funny thing is, my career as a safety advocate chose me when I joined Britax more than 16 years ago. When I accepted the job, I asked myself: “How hard can car seats be?” Not long after, I remember sitting at my desk with my head in my hands, asking myself what I had done. It was a very steep learning curve - turns out car seats are hard, after all. But over the course of the last decade and a half, I have found my true passion for child passenger safety. After just a few months at Britax, and after interacting with Child Passenger Safety Technicians at trade shows and conferences, I found myself inspired by their passion for child safety and decided to take the national certification class to become a technician myself. Within 2 years, I became a child passenger safety technician instructor and I now train others to become technicians and help other families transport their children safely.

Has car seat safety changed a lot during your time at Britax?

When my daughter was born 38 years ago, nobody at the hospital asked me if I had a car seat or offered to help me install it. Car seat laws barely existed. On the way home from the hospital, I held my daughter in my arms in the front passenger seat of my mother’s car. When I transitioned her into a car seat, it was a used car seat from a yard sale - and the harness had been cut out. Two and half years later when my son was born, I brought him home from the hospital forward-facing in yet another yard sale car seat.

Today, there are more than 41,000 nationally certified Child Passenger Safety Technicians that help families and caregivers transport their children correctly and safely. I want to do everything I can to make sure these types of resources continue to be available to parents and caregivers, so that no one finds themselves in the same position I was in as a new mother, unwittingly putting their children at risk. I loved my children with all my heart from day one and didn’t even realize I was putting them in harm’s way. That should never happen to any family.

Where does your strength come from, as a mother and as a professional?

I don’t mention this often, but I was a teen mom in high school when I had my daughter. At the time, I knew it would be challenging, but I decided that I couldn’t let my baby down. I had to do everything in my power to give her the best life I was able to. I went back to high school for my senior year with a 1.5 month old baby. I wasn’t going let my child see me as a failure. My personal strength has always come from overcoming the perception people have when they hear I was a teen mom. It has always been my goal to show my children that they can overcome anything if they put their minds to it. We all have the power to determine our own destination.

In your job, are you ever afraid? What do you do to overcome your fear?

I think like all of us, there are fears when roles or jobs change and as life changes. In my role today of educating families and protecting children, my biggest fear is for the families that I can’t reach, the parents and caregivers who don’t listen to my advice. We as adults - caregivers and parents - are making critical decisions for our children. Please listen, learn and make the most informed decisions possible regarding your children's safety.

Mothers are typically seen as soft and nurturing. What do you believe makes mothers strong? 

From my perspective, what has driven me to be what I consider a strong mother, is my desire for my children to view me as someone who can succeed and overcome the challenges presented to me. Road blocks don’t mean you can’t continue down the path you’re on, you just have to decide whether the destination is really what you want. If so, then you accept the route needed to get there. Being both soft and strong is definitely an internal struggle, but we must remember that we need both in our lives.

We all want to make sure our children are the safest they can be when riding in a car. What are your top safety tips for choosing the right car seat for your child?

When you are selecting a car seat, please make sure you look for one that 1) fits your child, 2) fits your vehicle, 3) includes features that you can use correctly EVERY time you use the car seat and 4) fits your budget.

To make sure that the seat fits your child, check that the height and weight ranges are appropriate for your child and that it can be used in the appropriate direction (rear-facing or forward-facing) for your child.

To ensure that the seat fits your vehicle properly, check that it is properly installed in the back seat of your vehicle and that you can achieve the proper recline angle for rear-facing installation.

Remember, if you cannot use features correctly every time you use the car seat, it won’t matter if you saved money or spent a lot on the purchase. It has to be used correctly every time to properly protect your child.

And finally, it is important to remember that all car seats sold have to meet the same Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard (FMVSS) 213. Think of choosing a car seat like choosing a car. You selected your car based on priorities - whether that is safety features, comfort, or maybe ease-of-use. The same goes for car seats: each has it’s own features, and you choose the one that works best for your lifestyle. 

Car crashes are a leading cause of death for children ages 1 to 13. Many times, deaths and injuries can be prevented by proper use of car seats, boosters and seat belts. How can we be sure that we have installed our car seat/booster properly?

It’s really important to read and follow the user manuals from both the child car seat manufacturer and the vehicle manufacturer in order to achieve a proper installation. The safest place for your child in any vehicle is in the back seat. The center of the rear seat is preferable to outboard (window) positions - as long as you can achieve a tight installation - because it is the farthest from potential side impact. However, keep in mind that if you’re not able to install your car seat in the center position, a properly installed car seat in an outboard position will still provide excellent protection for your child during a crash.

You also want to avoid a loose car seat installation. After installation, grasp the seat near the belt bath to check for movement of more than one inch side-to-side or front-to-back at the belt path. If you have trouble installing your car seat securely in the rear center seat, try an outboard position.

The process of putting your child in the seat and taking them out, along with the motion of your vehicle, can shake your car seat loose over time. This makes it critical to check the fit often and reinstall your child seat periodically. Parents and caregivers can seek assistance or check that car seats are installed properly by meeting with a Certified Passenger Safety Technician. To have your seat checked, visit www.safekids.org to find your nearest inspection station. 

I am about to take a long cross-country road trip with my two children. What are some safety issues that I may not be thinking of?

Your children are always watching. Set a good example and always wear your seat belt. If traveling with a partner or friend, take turns sitting in the back seat with your child. Avoid distractions while driving and allow your passenger to handle the GPS or radio so you can concentrate on driving. If you plan on bringing toys and accessories to keep your child entertained, I always recommend use of soft toys and cloth books, as any unrestrained objects can become projectiles in the event of a crash.

If you’re traveling by plane, I recommend you take your car seats for a couple of reasons. The safest place for a child is in a car seat or booster seat, not on a lap. If you’re renting a car once you reach your destination, you will also feel more at ease knowing your child is properly fitted and safe in his or her own car seat. Companies like Britax make travel carts and travel bags to make car seat transportation easy. If you are unsure whether your car seat is FAA-approved, look for a label on the side of the seat that states, “This child restraint system conforms to all applicable Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards,” or, “This restraint is certified for use in motor vehicles and aircraft.” Always remember, you’re traveling with precious cargo!

Do you have any tips for raising strong, resilient children?

Your children learn from you starting the moment they are born. As they grow, watch and listen to you, they follow your every move. Remember we are their role models! Yes, we make mistakes and it is important our children see we acknowledged the mistakes. Experience life with them. I always felt it was better to have them experience things with me, than to shelter them and have the exposure on their own, without me there to answer their questions.

Do you know a mama who is hustling to keep us safe? Drop her some love in the comments.

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