A local branch of Safe Kids Worldwide wants to ensure Martin County kids are as safe as possible while traveling in a vehicle.
To kick off National Child Passenger Safety Week, which began Monday, Safe Kids Riverbend, (MTW Public Health Inc.), partnered with Safe Kids Pitt County (ECU Health Medical Center) to give away 140 booster seats at the Scout Hut in downtown Williamston on Saturday.
But the booster seat blitz failed to bring out the numbers organizers had hoped to see.
In fact, the number of volunteers who came to help was more than double the number of booster seats that were given away. At least 30 people volunteered on Saturday and only 13 seats were installed.
“A lot of people don’t realize the importance of booster seats,” said Vickey Manning, Coalition Coordinator for Sake Kids Riverbend.
“They think about infant carriers and convertible seats, and once a child ages out, they don’t need to worry about anything else,” she said.
Safe Kids Riverbend is working to change that misconception.
“We are always struggling to reach families,” she said. “Parents sometimes graduate their kids too early from other car seats, when they really need boosters.”
The booster seats they were giving away were designed for children who are at least 4 years old, and weigh a minimum of 40 pounds.
According to Safe Kids Worldwide, preventable injuries are the number one killer of kids in the United States.
Manning said the use of booster seats cuts back the number of preventable injuries.
Several agencies participated in the booster seat blitz including Williamston Fire and Rescue, who installed the booster seats for the few who came, as well as checked other car seats in vehicles to make sure they were properly installed. They also checked expiration dates on car seats being used.
Organizer Ellen Walston with ECU Health Medical Center said many people don’t realize there is an expiration date for car and booster seats.
“Seats are typically good only for six years,” she said. “Even if the label is missing, it is stamped into the plastic – ‘Do not use after [date].’ So, anytime there is an expired seat, we ask parents to bring them to the fire station so they can be destroyed to keep someone else from trying to use them.
We also ask parents not to purchase [car seats and booster seats] at yard sales. You don’t know the history of the seat,” she added.
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), approximately 139,042 children were injured in car crashes in 2020, tallying to more than 350 injuries daily.
Recent studies from AAA and the National Safety Council (NSC) show a critical gap in child passenger safety awareness from both parents and caregivers. More than half of the car seats brought in for inspection to safety technicians were improperly installed and used.
“Child safety seats reduce the risk of fatal injury by 71 percent for infants and by 54 percent for toddlers, but more than half of them are installed improperly,” said Lori Cook, safety advisor, AAA East Central. “That’s why AAA urges parents and caregivers to educate themselves and look for free resources, such as virtual or in-person car seat inspections in their area.”
Williamston Fire and Rescue members have been trained in proper installation.
Other volunteers included those from ECU Health, MTW District Health and TEDI BEAR Child Advocacy Clinic in Greenville.
The free booster seats were purchased with a grant secured by Walston through a Children’s Miracle Network.
Manning was unsure why more people did not show up for a free booster. The only requirements were that the child had to be present to be weighed and measured, and a parent or guardian had to watch a less-than five-minute video, produced by Eastern Virginia Medical School, about the importance of booster seats.
According to buckleupnc.org, “Kids need boosters longer than you think. Seat belts are designed for adults. Many older kids, ages 8 to 12, are not yet tall enough for the seat belt to fit correctly.”
“Many parents think that if their kids are in the backseat with an adult seatbelt their kids are safe,” said Dr. Phillip Thomas, pediatrics resident at Eastern Virginia Medical School. “That’s just not the case. Far too often we see kids come in with internal organ damage and damage to the large vessels.”
An adult seat belt does not always fit where it is supposed to on a child.
“The shoulder strap [without a booster] sits improperly across the child’s neck, putting at risk the internal structures of the neck, such as the trachea and spinal column,” Thomas added.
Registered Nurse Cathy Peterson, is Trauma Program Manager at Children’s Hospital of the King’s Daughters in V.A.
She said some parents think, “Oh, they are old enough, I don’t need to use the booster seat anymore. They do if [the belt] falls across the abdomen, or it’s not across the chest right, that’s when a child could be injured the most,” said Peterson.
According to Dr. Georjeane L. Blumling, a Child Passenger Safety Instructor at AAA Virginia said an unrestrained child, even at 30 miles per hour, will experience the same force as if they fell out of a third-story window.
“The transition period after a forward-facing seat is when a booster seat becomes vital. Children simply do not fit in a vehicle with an adult seatbelt until they are at least 4’9” (145 centimeters),” she stated.
The “safety belt fit test” should be applied before a child travels without a booster, she said.
Children should be able to sit with their back against the seat, their knees bent at the edge of the seat with their feet resting flat on the floor. This allows the seatbelt to properly come across the shoulder and chest, (not the neck) and sit low across the hips which are the strongest portions of the child’s body.
It is also critically important the children always ride in the backseat until the age of 13, according to the short film.
Saketha Wilson brought Raleigh Weathersbee, 4, to the booster seat blitz, hoping to get him a booster seat. Raleigh was measured and weighed by Williamston Fire and Rescue Fire Marshal Stacy Pippin. Unfortunately, Raleigh was slightly underweight and too short to receive a free booster seat, which means he should stay in his forward-facing car seat a little longer.
Pippin made sure his existing car seat was properly installed, telling Wilson they are trying to keep kids as safe as possible for as long as possible.
Manning told Wilson to call her just as soon as Raleigh grew a little and reached 40 pounds, she would make sure he got a booster seat.
If you are interested in obtaining a free booster seat for a child who is at least 4 years old and weighs 40 pounds or more, contact Vickey Manning at the MTW Health Department at 252-791-3133 or email her, firstname.lastname@example.org, to schedule a time to watch the short educational video and receive the free booster installed in your vehicle.