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A November 6 Challenge for Candidates: Are You Champions for Child Injury Prevention?

October 26, 2012
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This post originally appeared on The Huffington Post.

Our kids don't have lobbyists or political action committees. In this election cycle, they can't vote. But their voices, and those of their parents, must be heard. If the candidates are listening, they might be surprised by one astounding statistic: Unintentional injury is the number one killer of kids in the U.S.

Think about this: All of these injuries -- the auto crashes, drownings, falls, crib suffocations and other injuries resulting in death -- are preventable. They don't have to happen. And the candidates who win on November 6 can have a fundamental impact on changing that statistic so fewer parents have to endure the tragedy of losing a child.

It's proven that we can prevent childhood injuries, and that government has a key role to play in that goal. Since 1988 when Safe Kids was founded, there has been a 53% decrease in the unintentional injury rate among children 19 years and younger. A big part of that decrease is a result of the efforts we've made in auto safety. Think about seat belts, child safety and booster seats, cell phone and texting bans, and the laws passed to crack down on drunk drivers, led by Mothers Against Drunk Driving. Childhood motor vehicle traffic-related death rates declined 41% from 2000 to 2009. But even with that improvement, preventable injuries remain the number one killer of kids.

If the combination of research, education and legislation can lead to such results involving a machine that can go 120 miles per hour and weighs an average 4,000 pounds, imagine what we can do in other risk areas.

  • Every day, four busloads of kids (165) are seen in emergency rooms after getting into medications in the U.S. Parents who call the poison control center (1-800-222-1222), rather than rushing a child to the ER, are using one of the best investments we make as taxpayers. According to a study released this month by the American Association of Poison Control Centers, that call to a center helps save 1.8 billion every year in medical costs and lost productivity. That's because 90 percent of the cases relating to kids are resolved over the phone. Still, Washington is more than halfway towards a 50% decrease in the federal share to fund the poison control centers, and state support is no better. That makes no sense given a recent study showing that each tax dollar spent on poison control centers saves 38.74 in health care costs and productivity. And the poison control centers save kids' lives.
  • Too many kids ride their bikes without a bike helmet even though helmets reduce the risk of severe brain injuries by 88 percent. Yet only 45% of young bike riders consistently wear a helmet. After New Jersey passed a mandatory bike helmet law in 1968, bike-related deaths decreased in the state by 60%. And, when it comes to return on investment, every 12 spent on a bicycle helmet for a child ages 3 to 14 generates 580 in cost savings in health care and productivity. But only 21 states and DC have some form of mandatory bike helmet laws. Bike helmets save kids' lives.

We're not saying government is the only champion for child safety. Much of the time, police, fire fighters and first responders as well as vigilant parents and responsible corporate citizens are the heroes, or heroic partners. For example, it is innovative engineers who are making cars safer, often making changes before government tells them to do it. 

But when it comes to kids swallowing medications, thinking it might be candy, or biking without a helmet that will protect a child's brain from a fall, government has a role to play, and can play in ways that more than pay for themselves.

At a time when there are strong -- and responsible -- efforts to balance our federal and state budgets, there will be intense pressure to reduce funding or kill programs. Whether they are running for President or City Council, it is more important than ever that we evaluate our candidates through our parental lens concerned about child safety.

We must challenge the candidates running on November 6 to pledge their support for common sense laws and policies that will save lives, and also, save tax dollars. Make sure your candidate has the values and policies to support common sense laws and funding that will save kids' lives, and pay for themselves. "We the Parents" and our kids, the next generation of voters, deserve nothing less.