Motor vehicle crashes continue to be the leading cause of accidental death among children ages 14 and under, according to research done by the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control. According to 2004 data from the Missouri State Highway Patrol, 20 children under the age of 8 were killed in vehicle crashes in Missouri and 2,725 were injured.
On Tuesday, Gov. Matt Blunt, UM System President Elson Floyd, Missouri Health Care CEO Jim Ross, doctors and a board member of Safe Kids Columbia gathered outside the emergency room at University Hospital to promote child passenger safety.
The event was organized by Safe Kids Columbia to lower the number of accidental childhood injuries and deaths by promoting public awareness.
“I bring a passionate voice to those that can’t speak or act for themselves, our most precious endowment, our children,” Bob Harris of Safe Kids Columbia said.
Education is an important part of the effort. Although 96 percent of parents believe they install and use their car seats correctly, nearly 73 percent are misused in at least one critical way, the injury prevention center, part of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, reports.
The Safe Kids coalition is supporting House Bill 1043, legislation designed to improve child safety laws and regulations in Missouri.
The sponsor of the legislation, Barbara Fraser, R-St. Louis County, puts an emphasis on a section of the bill that requires children ages 4 to 8 be secured in a child safety seat.
Child safety advocates are directing their attention to what Fraser calls the “forgotten child.”
“They are trying to close a gap in public policy that has left this group vulnerable in car crashes,” she said.
The forgotten child refers to children who have become too big for car seats but are still small enough that the pressure of seat belts can injure them in a car accident.
Forty-three percent more children between ages 4 and 8 died in vehicle accidents in Missouri in the past decade than children under the age of 4, according to Highway Patrol data.
If Missouri adopted a law similar to one in Wyoming that requires anyone under the age of 8 to be in a child safety seat, child fatalities could be reduced by 25 percent, according to a study conducted at the Truman School of Public Affairs.
Child safety seats are seen as one solution. According to the CDC, the seats reduce the risk of injury by nearly 60 percent.
There is strong legislative support for stronger child passenger laws, Fraser said, although there is concern about the cost of the safety seats. Fraser said she doesn’t think this will be a problem because the seats are relatively inexpensive.
The bill has been discussed in the House Transportation Committee and should be sent to the House floor soon, Fraser said.
There are several other bills in the state legislature related to child passenger safety, and Fraser said they will probably be rolled into an omnibus bill that combines aspects of each proposal.
Legislators and organizations such as the Safe Kids Coalition still have a long way to go. Nationwide, only 19 percent of children who should be restrained in safety seats use them, according to the CDC.
Some progress has been made. The motor vehicle occupant death rate among children ages 14 and under declined 25 percent from 1987, when the Safe Kids Coalition was created, to 2002.
“If we can just convince folks to use these devices, we can prevent a lot of heartache and accidents,” Ross said.
On Saturday, Safe Kids Columbia will be inspecting car seats from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. in the parking lot of Lou Fusz Saturn, 1310 Vandiver Drive. Car seats will be available for a $28 donation to the Columbia Safe Kids Coalition. To make an appointment for inspection, call 884-3660.