A Palmer mom says a car seat saved her 6-year-old son's life and wants her story to be an example to others of why it’s important to make sure children are properly restrained in the car.

Brenna Rath was driving her family minivan on Vine Road on Saturday, carrying her three children — Maeve, Whimsy and Ridley — and their cousin when the van’s front left tire blew out.

“It was scary," Brenna said. "We were driving and then all of a sudden there was like — I don't even remember a sound so much as a sudden tug."

Then, Brenna says, the car flipped on its left side and continued to slide along the rocks on the side of the road.

Hanging sideways in the car, Brenna asked the kids if they were okay. Then they carefully unbuckled and crawled out the passenger side of the van with the help of people who had been driving by.

Six-year-old Ridley was in a car seat behind Brenna, right next to where a window busted out.

He says the cushions of the seat protected his skull.

"It guarded my head bones," Ridley said. "Without the pillows my head would be broke."

Brenna says she knows the car seat saved her son's life.

"I look at that shattered window and I look at the cuts on his knees and I look at those dents in the side of the van and the gouge where that rock was and I absolutely believe that car seat is responsible for him to walk away as intact," Brenna said.

Brenna has already replaced the car seat Ridley was in, since seats aren’t safe to use after they’ve been involved in traffic collisions.

Brenna’s friend Lynalice Bandy is a child passenger safety technician and says one of the biggest problems for parents with kids in car seats is keeping up with changing recommendations, regulations and vehicles.

“Things are changing constantly," Bandy said. "You have new seats, different seats, seats that expire, you have new vehicles, different regulations."

But it's important to know these things. Safe Kids Worldwide says correctly using child safety seats can reduce the risk of death by as much as 71%, but that 75% of seats are installed incorrectly. 

That's why Bandy and other technicians across Alaska help for free.

"Keeping a child safe is more important than anything I can put in my pocket," she said.

There are three main types of car seats: rear-facing, forward-facing and booster. Parents and caregivers should carefully read the labels to make sure their children meet the height and weight requirements of each.

Parents buying online can find this information in the product's description.

A rear-facing car seat is a child’s first, often used for a kid weighing five to 40 pounds.

Around age 2 — or when children outgrow rear-facing car seats by height or weight — kids should be moved to forward-facing car seats with harnesses.

A booster seat is for when kids outgrow forward-facing seats. It raises the child up so the car's adult lap and shoulder seat belt fits properly. 

In addition to checking height and weight requirements, it's also important to check the seats’ expiration dates — they’re written on the label or imprinted on the plastic.

When it’s time to get rid of a car seat, take it apart and put the pieces in separate dark trash bags to prevent someone else from using an unsafe seat.

The Center for Safe Alaskans offers help installing car seats and schedules appointments in Anchorage for seat checks.

Information about car seat check locations in other parts of the state can be found on the Alaska Child Passenger Safety Coalition’s website.

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