In an effort to help parents and caregivers learn everything about their children's car seats — from inspecting them to checking for expiration dates — Dignity Health partnered with the California Highway Patrol and First 5 of Santa Barbara County to host a safety event Saturday. 

Danny Maher, CHP child passenger safety instructor, said many families who came to the event, staged at the Marian Regional Medical Center parking lot, had no idea their car seats had expiration dates or manufactured dates. 

"It's very common," said Maher. "Manufacturers nowadays are putting expiration dates on seats, whereas in the past, they used to just put manufactured dates. Seats don't last forever." 

The dates serve an important purpose as car seats typically have between six to seven years of shelf life, "and after that they're not good anymore," he said. 

"You have to remember, seats are covered in plastic, which after time gets brittle after sitting in hot cars all day," Maher said. "The plastic can break down, and the intricate parts of the seats themselves can also break down over time. That's why, today, we have to make sure they're up to date." 

Maher pointed to a row of six car seats that were deemed "unsafe" or "expired," that the instructors pulled out of cars from that day. 

"We take these out and give parents a replacement seat to take home," he explained. Picking up a maroon-colored seat, he pointed to the back of it, with an expiration date of 2009. 

"This one here may look like a good seat, but this one actually expired, so it's no good anymore. You think seats last forever, but they don't, and it's important we get this information out there today." 

Several cars were steadily lining up throughout the 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. window, many filled with children. As a car came in, officials had drivers fill out paperwork on how many car seats they had in their vehicle, and the type of seat. Multiple stations were lined up with a certified child passenger safety technician to show parents the ropes on how to install a car seat, take it out and the works. 

PJ Villanueva, who attended the event with his wife, Vanessa, and newborns Patrick and Alina, said he hoped Dignity Health and CHP will hold more events in the future, as he found it helpful and informative. 

"They need to do this a lot more often, like at least twice a month," he said. "Some of the stuff our technicians told us, we didn't know about. They covered aspects of everything, showing us details about the car seat." 

He added: "We found out right now that for one of our seats, there was a recall that we didn't even know about. We have two babies who are always using car seats, so this is very helpful. I recommend all parents to come out here because you can never know too much about safety." 

"We don't allow any kid to leave here unsafe," said French Hospital staffer and car seat technician Eric Ruelas, who was helping out Villanueva. "We want everyone who comes through here to leave safe and knowledgeable." 

CHP Officer Dave Medina, who attended the event Saturday, said the agency hopes to host more events in the near future. 

"You can never be too safe, in case something were to happen," he said. "We hope this event is helpful to the community and answered any questions. For those who couldn't make it today, just call any local CHP office in the area and book an appointment with a technician. We'll always be here to help." 

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Gina Kim covers crime and courts for Santa Maria Times. Follow her on Twitter @gina_k210