Meadville Tribune

February 17, 2014

Keeping your child safe while you drive

By Nina Bell
Meadville Tribune

— Child passenger deaths have dropped by 43 percent over the past 10 years, according to a new report from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The decrease in such deaths is being attributed to improved education. More parents are buckling up their children or using appropriately sized child restraints to reduce injuries and deaths in the event of an accident.

While this is great news, motor vehicle accidents remain a leading cause of death in children — mainly because of poorly installed child safety seats or a failure to use them. The same report found that almost 50 percent of African-American, 46 percent of Hispanics and 26 percent of Caucasian children who die in crashes do so because they were not properly fastened into their booster seat or car seat, or their seat belt wasn’t even connected.

Interestingly enough, all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands and the Virgin Islands require child safety seats. Forty-eight states require booster seats for older or larger toddlers. Only Florida and South Dakota do not have such a law. Only California, Florida, Louisiana, New Jersey, and New York require seat belts on school buses. Texas requires them for school buses that were purchased after September 2010.

Although child passenger deaths are down, the overall rates are still high. The CDC reports that one in three children who died in 2011 did so because they were not buckled into their seat or a safety seat. These are completely unnecessary deaths. Buckle up your child, parents!

The key to keeping your child safe involves a few simple steps:

1. Use car seats, booster seats, and seat belts in the back seats every time you leave the house. Even if you’re heading across the street to the convenience store, you never know what could happen in a split second on the road. The CDC has guidelines for seats for children up to adult.

2. Install your safety seats properly. Manufacturers include instructions with the seats that follow all safety guidelines. If you are struggling with installation, ask for help. Your local health department or the police department can assist you with ensuring your seat is properly installed.

3. Make sure all children age 12 and younger are buckled into the back seat. Studies have shown that the airbags in the passenger side seats can do more harm to a small child if deployed. Play taxi driver, and put them in the back where they are far safer.

State ranks high in overall motor vehicle crashes

Pennsylvania is ranked as the fifth highest in medical and work loss costs due to motor vehicle crashes. Crashes annually cost the state around $1.52 billion in medical costs and lost productivity/wages. California was ranked highest at $4.16 billion, Texas was at $3.5 billion, Florida at 3.16 billion and Georgia at 1.55 billion.

According to the CDC, more than 30,000 people are killed in motor vehicle crashes each year. Three key areas are attributed to the high number of crashes: impaired driving, lack of seat belt use and inexperienced teen drivers.

The best mode of prevention is common sense. Don’t get behind the wheel if you’ve been drinking. Use your seatbelt. Provide guidance to inexperienced new drivers. Together as a community, we can be healthier and safer — with common sense.

Nina Bell, Ph.D., MPH, is a public health professor with Ashford University and works in health promotions for the Meadville Family YMCA. She is a co-author of the book “Community and Public Health,” published by Bridgepoint Education Inc. You can email her at nina@w2w4life.com.