Some of the best parents are putting their children at risk -- and they don't even know it.
Their error? Skipping the crucial transition between infant car seats and seat belts. I'm talking about booster seats, specially made for children from 4 to 8 years of age or, more precisely, children who weigh between 40 and 80 pounds.
Booster seats have been around for a long time, but most people don't realize how important they are in minimizing injuries or saving young lives in car crashes. Many good mothers and fathers just move their kids from infant car seats to adult seat belts around age 4.
This is OK for an older child whose body structure is large enough to fit behind a seat belt properly. But for those who fall into that 40- to 80-pound gap, a regular seat belt can be dangerous. These kids are still too small for lap and shoulder belts; the lap belts cut across their kidneys, spleen and liver and the shoulder belt cuts across their neck. In this position, seat belts cover vulnerable body parts and can seriously injure young children during a traffic crash.
Booster seats, on the other hand, raise the child up so adult seat belts fit better and more comfortably, low across the hips and pelvis, with the shoulder harness properly across the chest.
Yet studies show that only 7 percent of children use booster seats. And this oversight contributes to more than 500 young lives lost nationwide each year, all because parents fail to make what amounts to a $50 investment.
Alaska is no different. Very few people here use booster seats, even though the leading cause of death for that age group in this state is unintentional injuries. Of those unintentional injuries, motor vehicle injuries are by far the leading type.
I want to change that.
Under a $35,000 grant from Ford Motor Co., the Alaska Injury Prevention Center, in partnership with Alaska Safe Kids, is able to give away 550 booster seats to low-income families throughout the state. It's part of Ford's donation of more than $1 million to organizations like ours in 23 states and Washington, D.C., to improve child passenger safety through the automaker's Boost America! campaign.
The program includes a massive education effort through such forums as the upcoming Buckle Up Alaska campaign taking place Friday in Anchorage at the Millennium Alaskan Hotel (formerly the Regal Alaskan).
Thanks to Ford and Boost America!, we've taken care of the cost for many, but the battle isn't over. We still need to convince parents and children to use the boosters.
Children may think they are too big for a "baby seat," but parents should reassure them that booster seats are not for babies but only for older children. The child will also be able to see better and will be more comfortable wearing their seat belts. You will no longer want to put the shoulder strap behind the child, which is a very dangerous practice. Most family members have their designated seats around the dinner table, and the booster seat should be your child's designated seat in the car.
Infant car seats have saved thousands of lives, but initially, getting people to use them was a struggle. We heard comments such as the baby didn't like it or it made them fussy. Now, most parents would agree that children are less fussy and easier to travel with, if they are safely restrained in their car seats.
Bottom line: You are the parent and it is up to you to decide where your child sits and if they are properly protected in the car!
For more information about the Alaska Injury Prevention Center's booster seat program, call (907) 929-3939 or call Jane Fellman of the Kenai Peninsula Safe Kids Coalition at 262-8195, ext. 280. The central peninsula is scheduled to receive 40 booster seats through the Boost America! campaign.
Ron Perkins is the executive director of the Alaska Injury Prevention Center.
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