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Safety Seat Check Assists Motorists

Fairfax residents Tamer and Jennifer Eid braved the cold on Thursday, Feb. 13, to make sure that their new baby's car seat was installed properly. Their baby hasn't arrived yet, but the couple felt the issue was important.

"We're expecting, but we wanted to make sure the seat was installed right," Eid said, while his wife watched the officer attach the safety clip.

A combination of various brands of seats, different clips and different makes of cars, sport utility vehicles and minivans makes the procedure more difficult. Eid did read the directions but he got a case of the father-to-be jitters.

"I wanted to be sure," he said.

Traffic safety officer Harold "Hank" Hodges oversaw the safety seat check, which took place in the Burke Target Store parking lot on New Guinea Road. Officers from Virginia as well as Washington, D.C., were at the check, fulfilling part of their requirement for the recent American Automobile Association class that many attended. Fairfax County tries to have two safety seat checks a month but the other one scheduled for Friday, Feb. 7 was canceled due to snow.

Hodges addressed the officers before their 10 a.m. starting time.

"As you can see, we already have a line," he said.

All the factors with clips, cars and seats create the same problems everywhere. Although Hodges worked out of the Traffic Safety Division on Woodburn Road, the problems are similar everywhere.

"People don't read the directions. You've got to read them both," he said, referring to the car manual and the seat manual. "They're relying on us to install them," he said.

The child safety seat law was altered last year to include booster seats for children between 4 and 6-years-old and this year at the General Assembly meeting in Richmond, legislators flip flopped on another bill to allow officers to pull cars over if they spot someone in the front seat not using a seat belt and issue a $25 ticket. On Friday, Feb. 14, the bill was defeated 49-48 with area delegates Tom Bolvin (R-43rd), James Dillard (R-41st) and Tim Hugo (R-40th) voting in favor and Dave Albo (R-42nd) voting against it.

Eighteen states and Washington, D.C. already have a law to pull over cars for seatbelt violations. Though the new law does not affect child safety seats because officers could always pull a car over if a child was not in the safety seat.

Hodges was familiar with all the regulations and felt the new law was justified.

"We should be able to do it, it's a good law. It's for their safety, not ours," he said.

BACK IN THE LINE, "Jennifer" from Herndon planned on going to a seat check near her home but it was cancelled because of the snow. She watched as two military police officers from Fort Myer explained the seat belt clicks. The Army officers also took the Fairfax County course.

"We took the actual class in Fairfax County," said Army officer Mark McKee.

The safety check organizers had seats available for lower income parents as well as extra clips. Some seats were donated as were the extra clips.

"Ford is a big supporter," said West Springfield crime prevention officer Rex Pagerie.

Hodges noted some state funding as well.

"There will be grant money occasionally given out by the state," he said.

According to Pagerie, 95 car seats were inspected and reinstalled that afternoon, and out of that 95, only three were properly installed when the motorist arrived at the inspection.