Nothing funny about seat belt safety statistics

Stand-up comedians of a certain age or older have gotten a lot of mileage out of the fact they made it through childhood without the benefit of seat-belt laws.

As much as the leather seats worked to keep my legs stuck to the seat of my father’s 1972 AMC Matador, it was my seat belt that would have provided real protection in the event of a crash. To be honest, I can’t remember if I had to wear it or if I even did.

Nowadays, if you’re a kid in a car, truck or van on the road, you’re belted into something — the seat, a booster or a car seat. And as much fun as it is to joke about how tough we were with metal dash boards and the absence of seat-belt laws to force our hands to click it, the reality is children died in crashes in greater percentages than they do now. The families of children who survive crashes are grateful.

This year marks 30 years since Minnesota first passed its child passenger safety laws in 1982.

That year, less than 20 percent of the 11 infants (ages 0-3) killed in crashes were known to be properly restrained in a child safety seat, and only 22 percent of the 387 injured were restrained.

The success of the car-seat laws and increased use of child restraints has made a dramatic impact on child safety over the years, according to Department of Public Safety (DPS) Office of Traffic Safety data:

•In Minnesota since 2007, more than 15,000 children ages 0–7 were properly restrained and involved in traffic crashes, and a majority of those children (86 percent) were not injured and 12 percent sustained only minor injuries.

•In the last decade, 32 children ages 0–7 were killed in crashes and only 44 percent were properly restrained.

“There is no debate when it comes to the benefits of child seats,” says Heather Darby, child passenger safety programs coordinator at DPS. “Parents and caregivers have a huge responsibility to ensure their children are safe when they ride and step one is using the right seat that’s correctly installed.”

These numbers were broadcast throughout the state this past week as Child Passenger Safety Week was celebrated. Here in Elk River there was a child passenger safety seat clinic at Elk River Fire Station No. 2 this past weekend.

These clinics help immensely, as they pick up where the laws leave off. They provide the proper instruction for families and care providers on the importance of correct child safety restraint and booster seat use to keep children safe while riding in a vehicle.

In Minnesota, three out of four child restraints are used incorrectly — meaning children are riding in the wrong restraint or it is not properly secured.

Parents and caregivers may visit for instructional videos for installing and using various car seats, and to find a local car seat check location.

These and other YouTube videos can be helpful when your children are young and again when they get a little older and begin to buck the idea of a booster seat. It’s hard for a 7- or 8-year-old to argue with compelling video of what happens to a child in a crash.

Throughout the year, Sherburne County offers a Child Passenger Safety Program which provides car seat distribution and instruction for income-eligible persons, as well as child care and foster care provider car seat training and checks. Through this program, 156 car seats were distributed in 2011 and 234 car seat checks were conducted.

Motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for children ages 1 to 13. 2010 crash data from the U.S. Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) shows that every day, on average, two children ages 12 or younger were killed and 325 were injured in passenger vehicles.

“You can never predict or control what other drivers may do or the conditions and safety of a roadway,” said Kara Zoller, health promotions supervisor with Sherburne County Health and Human Services. “The best way to protect your kids while driving is to ensure they are in the appropriate car seat for their age and size and to make certain those seats are used correctly on every trip.”

Research shows that when installed properly and used correctly, car seats reduce the risk of fatal injury by 71 percent for children younger than 1 and by 54 percent for children 1 to 4 years old. Unfortunately, recent data has also shown that up to 90 percent of car seats nationally are installed incorrectly.

Comedians, nowadays, would be better off to poke fun at this unfortunate fact. Thirty years from now, an editor or columnist might be able to write a column with even more impressive statistics on the number of lives saved by seat belts, booster seats and car seats. Especially since one of them could be a family member of yours. — Jim Boyle, editor