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Safe Kids Worldwide: Building a Comprehensive Child Passenger Safety Program in the U.S.

As part of its comprehensive approach, Safe Kids Worldwide works with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the road traffic safety arm of the U.S. Department of Transportation, to improve training and data collection regarding child passenger safety. This effort builds on NHTSA's 45-year history of using an epidemiological and public health model to address death and injuries on roadways. This model was first introduced in 1970 by Dr. William Haddon, the NHTSA administrator and a physician, to study roadway trauma as a disease. In addition, NHTSA's National Center for Statistics and Analysis provides a wide range of data to the highway safety community to quickly identify problems and support data-driven decisions. Safe Kids Worldwide credits the early creative and sustained vision of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to foresee the unique roadway needs of children and the need for broad stakeholder involvement in protecting them on roads.

While NHTSA was studying the nation state-by-state and as a whole, child passenger safety laws were passed in the states between 1977 and 1985 so that each had a primary law—meaning that police can stop drivers solely for failing to use child restraints—to protect children in vehicles. NHTSA recognized that enforcement required an educated police force and included enforcement as a key part of the solution. In all, NHTSA created a national initiative that incorporated education, enforcement, engineering, regulations, research and compliance testing to attack roadway trauma. As a significant part of that effort, NHTSA created and supported a standardized child passenger safety curriculum and certification course to arm advocates with data-driven information to confront the issue.

The certification course, designed back in the late 1990s, is still in effect. To date, more than 130,000 professionals from all 50 states and other nations have become certified as child passenger safety technicians. Safe Kids Worldwide has been the certifying body since 2004. In tandem with the certification course, NHTSA convened a national Child Passenger Safety Board, comprised of representatives of key stakeholder organizations. This 22-member advisory panel ensures that policies and protocols reflect the nation’s needs, regularly updates curriculum and provides quality assurance for the program.

Even with all this in place, motor vehicle crashes are still the leading cause of death for children ages 1 to 19 in the U.S. The Safe Kids Buckle Up program was launched in 1997 with the support of General Motors and the General Motors Foundation. Today, the program is delivered to communities by Safe Kids coalitions and certified technicians who are subject-matter specialists in child passenger safety. Every year, more than 80,000 car seats are checked for proper use and installation at Safe Kids events. Tens of thousands more seats are checked at events not affiliated with Safe Kids but by technicians certified by Safe Kids Worldwide.

As part of the Safe Kids Buckle Up checkup events, child passenger safety technicians collect and submit data on a scannable form to a national data collection system. We know, for instance, how the child and car seat arrived at the checkup, what type of vehicle and restraint were used, characteristics of use and misuse, modifications that were made and how the car seat left the checkup. The parent or caregiver learns how to properly secure the child and the seat in their vehicle. The standardized data allows for real-time evaluation of program activities, and because the data have been collected for 17 years, it is possible to study changes in restraint use over time and through policy and education initiatives. The data from Safe Kids are shared with NHTSA and car seat manufacturers, as well as vehicle manufacturers, as changes in the field of child passenger safety are evaluated. “Through the Buckle Up system, we can better understand what our educational efforts accomplish at the grass roots level,” says Torine Creppy, chief program officer at Safe Kids Worldwide. “And that’s critical for maintaining and growing a national child passenger safety program.” Safe Kids has shared the now-internationally desired certification course with countries just starting a national child passenger safety and road safety program. While fatalities to children have decreased nationally by 54 percent since the early days, there is still more work to do.

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