News & Events

Buckle Up for Life

Buckle Up for Life Google+ Hangout

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Simply put, car seats save lives. Based on data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, an estimated 3,308 lives were saved by car seats among children aged 0-4 years during 2002-2011.

However, much more still needs to be done. Approximately 75 percent of car seats are not installed correctly, which is one of the main reasons that vehicle crashes are among the leading causes of death for U.S. infants and toddlers. If car seats were used properly 100 percent of the time during that same 2002-2011 time period, more than 800 lives could have been saved.

That’s where Buckle Up for Life comes in. The national education program was created ten years ago by Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center and Toyota to help save children’s lives. Today it is a network of more than a dozen of the nation’s leading children’s hospitals and has educated more than 17,000 people about the proper use of car seats and seat belts. In addition, Toyota has provided funding for more than 40,000 car seats for families in need.

The program is making a difference. Community organizations offering Buckle Up for Life have, on average, found:

– The rate of children riding unrestrained in cars decreased from one in four to less than one in ten;
– The rate of children in car seats increased from almost one in three to one in two; and
– A 15 percent increase in use of seat belts for adults, from 71 percent to 86 percent.

However, despite these improvements, the work is not done. On Wednesday, Sept. 10, Buckle Up for Life hosted a live Google+ Hangout to discuss the issue on a national level. Moderated by Stephanie Ruhle, Managing Editor and Anchor at Bloomberg Television, the event’s participants included:

– Rep. Grace Meng (D-NY), founder and Co-Chair of the Congressional Kids’ Safety Caucus;
– Jennifer Pelky, a Vehicle Safety Engineer and certified Child Passenger Safety Technician at Toyota; and
– Dr. Rebeccah Brown, a pediatric trauma surgeon at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center and the Clinical Director of Buckle Up for Life.

During the Google Hangout, Rep. Meng shared how when she first entered the U.S. House of Representative she noticed a lack of advocacy on behalf of children’s causes, including safety. She worked with colleagues on both sides of the aisle to create the Kids’ Safety Caucus as a way to raise awareness about the dangerous and preventable circumstances children face.

“Preventable injury remains the leading cause of death for children in the United States, and we formed the caucus to raise awareness of these types of issues that are often overlooked,” Rep. Meng said. “So as parents and policymakers in this caucus, we are trying to remain vigilant in our mission to protect the safety of our nation’s children.”

Dr. Brown quickly turned the discussion to what can happen when kids aren’t properly buckled up in vehicles.

“The worst cases that I see are those [children] who are not buckled up properly or they’re completely unrestrained, and many times those children are paralyzed and they have life-long consequences from their injuries or they don’t survive,” she said. “And it’s awfully hard to go tell a family that they just lost their child in a car crash because the thing is — it is entirely preventable.”

Dr. Brown called Buckle Up for Life a “beautiful partnership” that brings together communities and hospitals to teach the value of ensuring that kids are properly restrained in vehicles. For example, car safety seats for infants can reduce the death rate by 71 percent and for toddlers they can reduce the rate by 54 percent. She said the program, which began as a local safety education initiative in Cincinnati, Ohio, has expanded to eleven other communities around the country and has recently added Boston, Mass.; Stanford, Calif.; and Greeneville, N.C.

According to Pelky, a vehicle safety engineer at Toyota and mother of two young children, this emphasis on education is important because even well-intentioned parents who use car seats may not be using them correctly. She shared the following tips that all parents should take when picking and using a car seat:

– Ensure the child’s height and weight fall within the seat’s limits;
– Children under the age of two should be in rear-facing, five-point-harness seats;
– Children should stay in a booster seat until they are at least eight years old and 4’ 9” tall; and
– Make sure the seat isn’t expired.

Pelky also discussed how to use the “inch” and “pinch” tests to ensure a car seat is installed correctly.

“If you grab that car seat toward the back and bottom and give it a good tug side to side and front to back, the seat should move less than one inch in either direction. If the seat moves more than an inch, then the parent needs to go back and tighten that seat up some more,” she said. “And then, once the child is actually in the car seat, we do what’s called the pinch test. So if the parent pinches the webbing up near the child’s shoulder, they shouldn’t be able to pinch a wrinkle in that fabric. If they can, they need to go back and snug that strap up a little bit more as well.”

Pelky also spoke about Toyota invites major car seat manufacturers to its facilities to test different seat models to determine how it can continue to design vehicles that accommodate the many seat varieties in the market.  This has led to breakthroughs for the company, like the launch of the new Sienna, which has even more LATCH points, and the new “Driver Easy Speak” technology that allows parents to communicate with their children in a safe manner while the vehicle is in motion.

Public transportation can offer its own obstacles when it comes to keeping kids safe. Rep. Meng, who lives in the borough of Queens in New York City, said that taxi companies there are required to have a set number of cars that provide car seats. In Washington, D.C., the Uber Family program from the popular car service allows people to request car seats ahead of time. And, of course, many parents always keep a car seat on hand, no matter where they are.

“When you see parents at airports with children, it’s such a pain, but many parents do travel in airports with their own car seats for their kids,” said Rep. Meng.

At the heart of each participant’s message for parents was the importance of education.

“Parents love their children,” said Dr. Brown. “They want to keep them safe, and they want to do the best by their child, but I think we need education. If we can educate our parents through organizations like Buckle Up for Life to put their seats in correctly — which three out of four parents don’t do — then we can bridge that gap.”

To hear an audio recording of the Google Hangout, click here.

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