Legislation that took effect Nov. 1 moves Oklahoma from having one of the weakest child passenger safety laws in the country to having one of the strongest. Each year in the U.S., nearly 1,400 children (ages 14 and under) die in motor vehicle crashes, and another 280,000 are injured –– primarily because they are not properly secured. Oklahoma loses nearly 90 children annually due to motor vehicle crashes.

 

Note: An in-depth look at changing Oklahoma child passenger safety laws and how the community has taken steps to improve awareness and compliance.

Legislation that took effect Nov. 1 moves Oklahoma from having one of the weakest child passenger safety laws in the country to having one of the strongest.

Each year in the U.S., nearly 1,400 children (ages 14 and under) die in motor vehicle crashes, and another 280,000 are injured –– primarily because they are not properly secured. Oklahoma loses nearly 90 children annually due to motor vehicle crashes.

Motor vehicle crashes continue to be the leading cause of death of children four years old and older.

Statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report child restraint systems are often used incorrectly. One study found that 72 percent of nearly 3,500 observed car and booster seats were misused in a way that could be expected to increase a child’s risk of injury during a crash.

To combat that issue, last weekend, Shawnee’s fire department participated a free Car Seat Check at Fire Station No. 3.

“Citizens were invited to drive their vehicles through the Engine Room and have certified members (Firefighter Devin Abney, Capt. Joe Henry, Capt. Denis Taron, Fire Marshal David Anderson, Lt. Nick Auld and Lt. Keipher Hotella) make sure their child safety seats were installed properly,” Fire Chief Dru Tischer said. “Department members were able to check, install or re-install 40 child safety seats making the children who ride in those seats much safer.”

Julia Koelsch of Safe Kids Oklahoma assisted in the setup of the event and provided free child safety seats to those who needed them.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), child safety seats decrease the risk of death in passenger car crashes by 71 percent for infants and 54 percent for toddlers.

Booster seat use reduces the risk for serious injury by 45 percent for children aged 4–8 years when compared with seat belt use alone.

The CDC cites seat belts reduce serious crash-related injuries and deaths by about half.

According to the Governors Highway Safety Association, at ghsa.org, first offense fines for not complying with a state’s child passenger safety laws vary from $10 to $500. Some states also use drivers license points as an additional penalty for noncompliance.

Oklahomans who fail to comply with the new child passenger restraint regulations will be fined $50. That fine could add up to $207.90 with court costs if the alleged offender loses the battle in court.

The site says that 48 states and the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico require booster seats or other appropriate devices for children who have outgrown their child safety seats but are still too small to use an adult seat belt safely.

The only states lacking booster seat laws are Florida and South Dakota.

Oklahoma, along with California and New Jersey, requires children younger than two to be in a rear-facing child seat.

Children in Oklahoma will have to ride rear-facing until age 2 or until their rear-facing seat is outgrown, whichever comes first. Since nearly all convertible car seats now rear-face until at least 40 pounds, the vast majority of children will be required to rear-face until age two at the very least. The new law also requires a five-point harness until at least age four, and a booster until age eight or four-feet, nine inches tall –– again whichever comes first.

“Our law was weak,” said Chuck Mai, spokesman for AAA Oklahoma. “But we now have one of the strongest child passenger restraint laws in the country.”

During a statewide video conference Monday, Laswanique M. Gray, MPH, CHES, Oklahoma State Department of Health-Injury Prevention Service, explained the changes that have been made in the child passenger safety law to health department employees throughout Oklahoma.

“The wording before was very vague,” Gray said. “The old version stated that children under six must be secured in a car seat or booster appropriate for their age, height and weight, and that 6-year-olds through 12 must be in a car seat, booster or seat belt.”

She said the new law, House Bill 1847, meets the recommendations of the American Academy of Pediatrics.

“And the wording is more clear. Children under four have to be in a car seat with a harness; and kids two and under must stay in a rear-facing car seat. We encourage parents to keep car seats rear-facing even longer if possible.”

Gray also pointed out that the safest place for a car seat is in the middle of the back seat.

“It’s farthest away from the doors,” she said.

Gray said these days car seats are built to last longer and grow with the child, saving on costs.

“There are many programs that offer free car seats to families who need them,” she said.

A noteworthy trend

The 2014 Oklahoma child restraint study shows a very strong connection between driver seat belt use and the use of child passenger restraints. Infants and small children are more likely to be restrained when the driver is wearing a seatbelt (94.6 percent) than when a driver is not belted (58.8 percent). That means 40 percent of children riding with unbelted drivers were themselves unrestrained.

One CDC study found that, in one year, more than 618,000 children ages 0-12 rode in vehicles without the use of a child safety seat or booster seat or a seat belt at least some of the time.

In Oklahoma, between 2008 and 2012, NHTSA reported 31 fatalities of children age four and under; 19 of those fatalities were restrained by car seats, 12 were not.

Fatality figures from the survey grouped children age five and up with the adult category. Oklahoma fatalities from age 5 to adult, during the same 5-year span, numbered 2,594 –– 971 were restrained and 1,623 were not.

Pottawatomie County ranks poorly for seat belt usage.

According to a 2014 Oklahoma Seat Belt Observation Study by the Oklahoma Highway Safety Office (OHSO), where 18 counties throughout Oklahoma were sampled, one of the lowest seat belt compliance rates for 2014 was Pottawatomie County, at 76.9 percent. Of those studied, only Lincoln County was lower, with a rate of 70 percent.

But seat belt usage in the city of Shawnee is up, though it could be better, Shawnee Police Department Administrator of Support Services Chris Thomas said.

Officers conducted a seat belt survey last month at the intersection of Kickapoo and Federal.

Thomas said a comparison was needed from its last survey performed in January of 2014. Shawnee’s seat belt usage during the 2014 local study was reported to be at 81.5 percent. During the Oct. 14 local survey, Thomas said it had gone up to 86.2 percent.

And according to Shawnee Municipal court records from 2000 to 2014, an average of only 23 citations for child passenger restraint violations were written each year.

Overall, for Oklahoma, the combined percentage of infants and children restrained has increased from 85.4 percent in 2007 to 89.9 percent in 2014.

For more information on child passenger safety, contact the OSDH Injury Prevention Service at (405) 271-3430 or 1-800-522-0204 or visit http://cps.health.ok.gov.

To make an appointment to have a

child safety seat checked by a certified Child Passenger Safety Technician, call Safe Kids Oklahoma (405) 945-6709 or (918) 494-7233 or the Injury Prevention Service at (405) 271-3430.

 

Tell me your story ideas. You can reach Vicky O. Misa at (405) 214-3962.