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  • 'Buckle Up' Campaign Takes Aim at Children
    Summer Deadliest Season for Kids in the Family Car

    May 23, 2000

    By Hans H. Chen

    WASHINGTON ( -- For children ages 5 to 14, no place is deadlier than the family minivan, and no time is more dangerous than the summer driving season that begins Memorial Day.

    Motor vehicle crashes kill more children and young teens than anything else, with the highest number of crashes taking place during the Memorial Day, July 4, and Labor Day holidays.

    But this week, 8,100 police departments across the country are beefing up traffic patrols to check for drivers not wearing seat belts and children not placed in child seats.

    The added patrols are a part of national Buckle Up Week, a project designed to increase seat belt use and lower child motor vehicle deaths.

    Death toll down

    From 1990 to 1998, 15,000 children died in car crashes. While the death toll dropped 12 percent during those eight years, the organizers of Buckle Up America have made a 25 percent reduction by 2005 one of their goals.

    "The main thing is that we know that the fatalities are going down because restraint use is going up," said Cathy Hickey, a spokeswoman for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), one of the sponsors of Buckle Up America. "And we think as more kids are restrained, more kids will survive crashes they otherwise wouldn't."

    The organizers of Buckle Up America also are trying to increase seat belt use by adults from 67 percent to 90 percent. Doing so would prevent about 5,500 deaths and 130,000 injuries and save the country $8.8 billion, according to the NHTSA.

    Making adults wear seat belts can also lead to more buckled-in children, the NHTSA says. Drivers who use seat belts are three times more likely to make sure their children do, too. But drivers who don't wear their seat belts leave their youngsters unbuckled on 70 percent of their trips.

    Society pays

    Buckle Up America's organizers are also hoping to convince unbuckled drivers that their continued intransigence hurts others if they get into accidents. The hundreds of thousands of killed and injured every year drive up taxes, health care rates and other costs.

    "The more injuries there are, the higher the insurance rates go up, too," said Sgt. Scott Beamon, a spokesman for the Indiana State Police, which will deploy an additional 250 troopers to the highway this weekend.

    The 8,100 law enforcement agencies participating in Buckle Up America are pursuing different tactics to achieve these goals.

    The National Safety Council, which is co-sponsoring Buckle Up America, is operating a toll-free telephone number, (800) 764-5755, for people to report drivers who don't buckle up their children. Those drivers won't face investigation by the police, but they will get information and safety materials mailed to their homes. The California Highway Patrol has also opened its own toll-free reporting line, (800) TELL-CHP.

    Educating Hispanic drivers

    The California Highway Patrol is also counting on its Spanish-speaking community affairs officers to educate Latino drivers on the need for child-safety seats. Last year, 23 of the 38 children killed in car crashes were Hispanic or had Spanish surnames.

    "It seems that this is an area where we really need to make the people more aware of the law and the benefits of protecting a child with a safety seat," said Steve Kohler, a spokesman for the California Highway Patrol.

    In Pennsylvania, state police will spend this week looking over child seats in 49 locations around the state, ranging from Wal-Mart parking lots to trooper barracks. Past inspections have found as many as 80 percent of the child seats were improperly installed, too loose or the subject of past recalls.

    "We think it's a result of people not looking at the instruction manuals that came with their seats or at the instruction manuals that come with the vehicles themselves," said Jack Lewis, a spokesman for the Pennsylvania State Police in Harrisburg. "We feel that most people are putting their kids in them, which is great. But they're not doing it properly."

    Zero tolerance

    Other jurisdictions are turning to increased enforcement on the roads this week.

    In New York City and Savannah, Ga., police departments promise zero tolerance for unbelted drivers. Both departments also said they would set up seat belt checkpoints throughout their jurisdictions.

    "I'd much rather talk to people about doing the right thing instead of writing them a ticket," said Cpl. Mike Nichols, a spokesman for the Savannah Police Department. But, Nichols added, "for 20 years, they did education, with public service announcements, freebies and handouts. And occupation restraint usage rose very little. But as soon as they starting having enforcement crackdowns, occupant restraint usage went way up."

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