Transition to NDCF to Energize CPS Data

Part 1 of a 4-part series. This article appeared as an editorial by Denise Donaldson and is followed by links to part 2, 3, and 4 of this series, information about the steps she took to prepare her checkup-event team and use the NDCF at checkup events.

This article originated in the November/December 2021 issue of Safe Ride News.

Since the mid-90s, I’ve run a CPS program based in the Seattle area. My team and I have logged thousands of seat checks, and after each checkup event, I let the team and our host agency know our totals—how many checks overall, how many for expectant parents, rear- versus forward-facing, and so on. Then, at year-end, I calculate annual and cumulative figures of our efforts.

These objective reflections of our work give us useful perspective and can be energizing. But lately, a sad truth has dawned on me: We have lazy data!

My knowledgeable, compassionate, and engaged team of volunteers deserves better. Every activity we CPSTs undertake is a data point, and there are plenty of them. As CPSTs, we tend to do all that is required and then go out and do even more. We should be credited for this work.

And, yes, CPSTs would say that the work is driven primarily by the human interactions we have with children and caregivers. But it also must be reflected in data. The success stories feed our hearts, but we need numbers to make the case for our ongoing viability.

The truth is, without meaningful data, CPSTs can’t win the grant/attract the sponsor/get the job. I’ve observed over the years that it can take only one leadership change at a sponsoring organization for even the most stable CPS program to turn precarious. No matter how essential we know we are, the numbers have to be there to back us up.

So, checkup forms have been a foundational part of the CPS program. We use them to guide us through all the points to cover during a check and to collect hold-harmless signatures in case of problems. This paperwork has also been our primary way to capture data over the years.

But, as a data collection device, the paper check form is hamstrung. While I’ve manually pulled data from each form before adding it to one of the growing piles in my garage, the checked boxes, filled bubbles, and carefully taken notes mostly languish. Sadly, much of what was collected never even rose to the level of being recorded data! And, sure, some paper check forms are more ambitious than mine. For instance, forms for Safe Kids Buckle Up events are sent in, scanned, and digitized (if their bubbles are carefully filled and there are no stray marks). But even that format is limited, especially in who can use the data and how.

Perhaps worse is that even the small amount of data I have managed to collect has been underutilized. By using a simple manual-count method for decades, my analysis has been basic—just enough to provide a fleeting source of warm-fuzzies. I know this is not unusual, as most CPSTs are not statisticians, and who has the time to do manual data analysis?

I’ve also come to realize that our data should have more eyes on it. What did my stats do after my CPST team and host agency looked them over? Were they used to influence potential sponsors? Inform the media? Provide feedback about misuse to CR and vehicle manufacturers? Add to the national database to support the value of the CPS field?

No, certainly the data was not used effectively; indeed, it wasn’t in a suitable format for such use. So, you can see why I’m critical, calling the data lazy. And, I’ll add, weak! I’m sad to think of all the years my team has toiled with so little useful data to show for it.

But, luckily, we now have a viable way to put an end to this wasted opportunity: The National Digital Car Seat Check Form, or NDCF, launched in 2018.

This software is produced and supported by many of the organizations we know and love (including NHTSA, the National Safety Council, and the National CPS Board) and is available for free to all CPSTs in the U.S. The NDCF Team takes tremendous care in developing, managing, and updating this resource. By truly listening to all input from the CPS field, the NDCF (last updated October 2021) keeps getting better and better.

Follow the steps here to sign up for the NDCF. Allow 1–3 business days to be approved.
To get up to speed on the NDCF, find support resources here.

So, this new year, my resolution is to shape up my data. Like any resolution, it won’t be a snap. It will require getting all my CPSTs signed up, ensuring they have both hardware and software, providing lots of training, and, of course, practicing. I’m sure there will be a few hiccups. But it’ll be worth it, since I’m convinced that data is vital, and the NDCF will deliver what I’m looking for:

  • More detailed data? Check. The NDCF records data automatically. I’m especially looking forward to capturing more misuse data that is more detailed.
  • More sophisticated data analysis? My goodness, triple-check! If you haven’t looked at the NDCF data dashboard, you really should. (Sign in here and look under Data.) We are so fortunate to have a professional research company, Westat, on the NDCF team. Using its tools, any CPST can look like a statistical genius! Users can view the tables and charts on the dashboard on many levels, including national, state, group, and even individual. These statistics become more meaningful with more data, so I’m eager to contribute.
  • More audience reach? Check again. The NDCF Data Dashboard and Table Tool’s professional-looking reports will be much easier to use for preparing grant applications, addressing the media, and writing reports. It’s also satisfying to know that, without even lifting a finger, our data will automatically be added to a pool that furthers the CPS cause. For instance, it will inform manufacturers about misuse issues and tell the federal government more about the quantity and value of our work.

Now, if you haven’t already transitioned to this wonderful tool, I realize you might have a “but what about …” reason that is holding you back. Believe me, I’ve had the same thoughts. But the more I’ve learned about the NDCF, the more I realize that each of these concerns has been eliminated or is resolvable. While I don’t have the space to list and rebut every issue I’ve heard, I encourage readers with concerns to share their thoughts ( and check out the resources here.

So, what do you say? Shall we all make 2022 the year of the NDCF? I urge you to join me on this journey. I’ll plan to report on my team’s transition and what has worked (or not) for us and others. This is one resolution I’ll be sure to fulfill!