Transition to NDCF to Energize CPS Data

This article appeared as an editorial by Denise Donaldson and is followed by additional information about the steps she took with her team to prepare for 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 ([email protected]) 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!

Insights From a Team Adopting the NDCF

Here are the first steps taken by the Car Safe Kids team in the Seattle area to begin using the NDCF.

An annual winter hiatus provided an ideal opportunity for my CPS team, Car Safe Kids, to do some  preparation and training before adopting the NDCF in 2022.  For readers who are also considering this process, here are the steps I’ve taken so far:

STEP 1:  A couple of months before our first 2022 checkup event, I sent an email to team members to announce the upcoming NDCF changeover, along with a brief rationale.  In the email, I gave the link to the NDCF ( and asked everyone to create an account, explaining that they’d need to upload their CPST wallet card and allow a few days for the account to be activated.  

The email also noted upcoming Hold My Clipboard webinars.  These discussion sessions, hosted by National Safety Council members of the NDCF Team, provide a nice introduction to the form and an opportunity to ask questions. While I assured team members that we’d also have team-specific trainings, about a third of them opted to tune in to one of these sessions to get acclimated. (Find upcoming Hold My Clipboard dates at

STEP 2:   About a month before the first 2022 checkup event, I sent an email asking team members to select from one of three Zoom training sessions offered at various times the following week.  During the sessions, I shared my screen to go over the website.   I started with the sign-in process, and then, to highlight the potential rewards of our effort, I jumped right to a review of the NDCF Dashboard and Table Tool.  Next I went through all the other menu tabs on the site (Agency,  Resources, How To, and Contact Us) and then ended by going through a practice checkup using the online form.  

Over 20 CPSTs attended these sessions, but since a few couldn’t make any of them, I recorded the last one and posted it online.  Readers who are interested in checking out the recording should contact me at [email protected] to receive a link.

STEP 3:  With the basic introductory trainings complete, I urged team members to practice.  On the online form’s “State” field, they can select “Practice” (the top option in the drop-down menu) to prevent practice data from corrupting the real data set.  

Another way to practice is to review the hardcopy form (available under Resources at, which is laid out and numbered the same way as the online and app versions.  This allows the learner to see the outline, all data-entry fields, and indicators for “skip patterns” (where questions are bypassed when the answer to a preceding question makes them unnecessary) on just two pages.  

I also recommended the many training materials available at both at and (under How To).  While I let my team members know that they can contact me with questions, email and phone support are provided on both of these sites, as well.

STEP 4:  Since we can’t count on a Wi-Fi signal at our event location, a couple of weeks out, I reminded team members to download the free NDCF app onto their devices (iOS, Android, or Kindle; search Car Seat Check Form on the device’s app store).  Using the NDCF app, we’ll be able to enter the data in the garage and then submit it when we are back within Wi-Fi  range.  

The team seems excited to get started using the digital form, especially given the statistics they’ll soon be able to access. We also value the fact that our data will support the CPS field  better in digital form.  Next up will be preparation for a smooth day-of application.  I’ll report on how that goes in the next issue.