HAMMOND — Erin Vliet placed her daughter, Anna, inside of her car seat and watched Thursday as North Oaks Education Coordinator certified child-safety seat technician Mary Ellen Jenkins tightened the shoulder straps.

Both women wanted to make certain that Vliet’s car seat was suitable for 17-month-old Anna, and that it fit properly.

To help keep her daughter safe on the road, Vliet took advantage of North Oaks’ program, which offers complimentary car and booster seat checks and installations. On Thursday, Jenkins had scheduled five appointments to check and install the seats properly.

“I was scared,” Vliet said. “I’m not sure I’ll put it in correct.

“I wasn’t sure if I should have it forward facing or rear facing, and they’re the authority on this,” Vliet continued.

The American Academy of Pediatrics advises parents to keep their toddlers in rear-facing car seats until age 2.

It also advises that most children will need to ride in a belt-positioning booster seat until they have reached 4 feet, 9 inches tall, and are between ages 8 and 12 years of age.

Jenkins, who serves as the medical center’s only certified child safety seat technician, said statistics show that nine out of 10 child safety seats are not installed properly.

“Ninety-six percent of children in Louisiana are not traveling correctly in car seats,” Jenkins said. Nationally, 70-80 percent of children are not traveling correctly in car seats, she said.

The National Highway, Transportation and Safety Administration’s 2009 child fatality data found that motor vehicle crashes were the leading cause of death for young people ages 3 to 14. In 2009, an average of four children age 14 and younger was killed and 490 were injured every day.

“Our focus for safety (for children) should be in cars,” Jenkins said.

Jenkins points out that the safest place for children to ride in a car is in the middle of the back seat.

The complimentary car and booster seat checks and installations program, Jenkins said, is funded through the Louisiana Highway Safety Commission.

Sticking to her goal of keeping children safe, Jenkins performs about 15 to 20 child safety seat checks during the monthly program, through appointments, and through visits to Restoration House in Hammond, where she helps new mothers install their baby or child safety seats correctly.

Jenkins said there are several factors to consider when purchasing or borrowing a child safety seat. For example, seats are only good for six years, Jenkins said.

“If it’s used, you never know if it’s been involved in a crash,” she said.

Other factors to consider are included in the NHTSA’s updated child restraint recommendation, which Jenkins provides to each parent or caregiver she meets, along with a small booklet about safety and installing child safety seats properly.

The next child safety seat check will be Sept. 1 at North Oaks Diagnostic Center, which is located at 15837 Paul Vega, MD, Drive on the North Oaks Medical Center campus in Hammond.

Appointments are available every 30 minutes from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. To make an appointment, call North Oaks Scheduling at (985) 230-7777 or (225) 686-4899.