HARLINGEN — When used properly, safety seats can save a child’s life in the event of a car accident.

That was the message from the Harlingen Police Department and other organizations that held a free child safety seat check Thursday from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.

A long line was already formed by 10 a.m. in the parking lot of Burlington and Kohl’s in Harlingen, where parents were able to take their safety seats to get inspected and know whether they are using them properly.

The police department also provided new replacement car seats in case the current used car seat was expired or defective.

“We are very heavy on education. We want to make sure not only to enforce the agency, but we are trying to prevent accidents. And we facilitate the process of teaching them how to properly install the seat,” Assistant Police Chief Miryam Anderson said.

Sgt. Salvador Carmona was the one leading the event.

Carmona said this was the first in-person car seat safety event since the COVID-19 pandemic forced the department to stop hosting them.

And judging by the turnout, it is an essential service.

“We want to make sure it is the correct car seat for that child and that it is not expired or damaged in any way and the child is secured properly,” Carmona said.

To ensure the car seat is the correct size for the child, the height and weight of some of the children was checked and if needed the car seat was exchanged for a new one. (Maricela Rodriguez/Valley Morning Star)

Technicians from the Alton Police Department, Driscoll Children’s Hospital from Corpus Christi, the Texas Department of Public Safety and Valley Baptist Medical Center were at the event.

Carmona said the car seats that were not in good condition were taken back from parents to avoid being thrown in the trash and being used again.

“It would defeat the purpose, and our purpose is to collect the ones that are no good,” he said.

Carmona said if a car seat has been in a car accident it no longer should be used.

“It is a one-time use only item. It is there to protect the child when you have an accident. After that, get rid of it and get a new one,” he said.

Carmona also stressed the importance of not leaving children inside a vehicle during the hot temperatures typical of the Rio Grande Valley.

“In deep South Texas, 11 months out of the year we have heat related fatalities of children being left alone in the car,” he said.

Carmona used a thermometer to demonstrate how hot the inside of a vehicle can get compared to temperatures outside.

“Right now, it is 89 degrees, but inside, it is 130 degrees. Children’s body temperature rises five times faster, and they are going to be subject to fatalities faster than an adult,” Carmona said.

Carmona said to call 911 and take action if a person sees a child inside a vehicle during hot temperatures.

Karen Beard, Injury Prevention Coordinator at Driscoll, said she has been attending events like these for 20 years. She is an instructor and teaches other technicians as well.

Beard said the first thing to look for is whether the seat is correct for the child and if the child fits properly.

“There are so many components to installing a car seat. It is hard to say any one thing we are looking at because there are so many phases in the installation,” Beard said.

During this event, she said technicians collected a few seats without seat belts being used.

“Having them checked is important because eight out of 10 are wrong and some mistakes are minor, but a lot of them can be life threatening. Car crashes are the leading cause of death of most children, and it is preventable,” she said.

Larissa Reyes, 30, attended the event alongside her children because she had issues with her car seat during a previous accident. Reyes was looking to replace the car seat. It was her first time attending an event like this.

“I think this is really good because there are a lot of people, especially with COVID where people cannot go and get a new car seat,” Reyes said.

Melissa Vasquez, 31, attended to make sure her car seat was being used properly.

“If I needed to replace it then they could let me know. They gave me some good information. This is good for the community to know how to keep their kids safe in the car,” Vasquez said.