CEDAR PARK, Texas (KXAN) — On any ordinary day, officers Justin Gower and Cale Hawkins get in their cars to patrol the streets of Cedar Park. But what happened during a traffic stop Saturday, was something neither experienced before.
“I was upset because it’s extremely dangerous,” says Officer Gower. Gower says he stopped a car at a gas station on South Bell Boulevard; inside, was a 1-year-old, 3-year-old and 4-year-old, and none of them were in car seats. “I have kids and I know how fragile they are, especially how young these kids were.”
Officer Hawkins says he actually stopped the father earlier this month. He knew the dad’s struggles to save money for his family, so the officers didn’t give out a ticket.
“They’re trying to get things going, they’re going in the right direction, and to issue them three citations for each child, would just devastate them,” says Gower.
Instead, they pooled their money with some other officers, and bought the family three new car seats.
“Money is not the issue, it’s the issue of can you help them, and so that was the easiest way we saw, the fastest path to helping them,” says Hawkins.
Officers coming through during a different kind of emergency, a family and children in need. The family didn’t want to go on camera, but they say they really needed the car seats, and the officers have been a blessing.
In 2013, Cedar Park Police handed out 42 tickets for failing to properly secure a child under 8 years old. In 2014, police gave out 49 tickets, and so far this year, they’ve issued 21 tickets.
If you need a car seat for your child but can’t afford it, there are several programs that offer free seats. The Texas Department of State Health Services offers car seats through a program called Safe Riders. Manos de Cristo also helps families with car seats. St. John Community Center in Austin is another resource. You can reach the center at 512-972-5139.
Car Seat Guidlines
National guidelines say children should be in a safety seat for much longer than you might think. Several agencies including the American Academy of Pediatrics say infants should stay in rear-facing car seats until they are at least 35 pounds or two years of age.
When children outgrow the rear-facing seat, they should ride in a forward-facing car seat as long as possible. That’s typically until a child is at least four-years-old and ranges from 40-to-80 pounds.
Once the child outgrows the forward facing car seat, they should be in a booster seat until they are 4’9″ tall or at least 10 years old, then they can start using the adult seat belts.