Combined team addresses safety concerns
Published 8:49 pm Monday, February 20, 2006
By By JOHN EBY / Niles Daily Star
CASSOPOLIS - In a show of solidarity, law enforcement agencies from across Cass County came together Friday at the Emergency Operations Center (EOC) to announce formation of a Traffic Safety Team.
The team formed with an $8,000 grant from the Michigan Office of Highway Safety Planning to address traffic safety issues in the county, including strict enforcement of child safety seats, seatbelt use in “zones” during May and July and drunk driving beginning in August.
Joining Sheriff Joseph M. Underwood Jr., Undersheriff Richard J. Behnke and Sgt. Todd McMichael of the Sheriff's Office for the Feb. 17 announcement were Dowagiac Police Chief Tom Atkinson, Dowagiac Officer Steve Grinnewald, Jenny Evans of Ontwa Township-Edwardsburg Police Department, Capt. Mike Jungel and Officer Rachel Sadowski-Spiegel of the Dowagiac-based Pokagon Band of Potawatomi Indians Tribal Police Department and Trooper Rob Herbstreith of the Michigan State Police Niles post.
Behnke said the team will conduct a child safety seat clinic to help people understand how to properly use child safety seats.
A date for the spring event will be determined.
Safety belt enforcement zones will be set up in May and July in several areas of Cass County, with the team switching focus to drunk driving enforcement in August and September, when patrols will be increased during peak evening alcohol usage times.
Behnke said seatbelt zones will be comprised of a “spotter” to identify violators and a “chase car” to apprehend those offenders, though “the goal is to send the message to people that safety belt use is important. We're not out to get hundreds of people violating, we want people to follow the law.”
Behnke said the $8,000 grant allots $800 for child safety seat education, with the rest going for overtime traffic enforcement between all the departments represented.
Grinnewald is the designated child seat technician for the Dowagiac Police Department.
Berrien, Van Buren and St. Joseph counties also received grants in southwest Michigan.
Booster seats protect
children and save lives
Every year children suffer needless injury.
Children ages 4 to 8 who use booster seats are 59 percent less likely to be injured in a car crash than children who are restrained only by a safety belt, according to a study by Children's Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP).
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), motor vehicle traffic crashes were the leading cause of death for every age, 3 through 33.
A positive relationship between drivers using safety belts and children being restrained shows 92 percent of children who were transported by belted drivers were restrained, compared to only 62 percent of children transported by unbelted drivers.
While 98 percent of America's infants (under age 1) and 89 percent of children ages 1 to 4 are now restrained regularly, far too few kids ages 4 to 8 are restrained properly for their size and age. Only 10 percent to 20 percent of children ages 4 to 8 who should be using booster seats to protect them are actually in them.
Children ages 4-8 are generally too small for adult safety belts (which lay incorrectly on their necks and along their stomachs). These kids need a “boost” to insure the safety belt will fit securely across their chests and low and snug across their hips to help prevent internal injuries, neck, head and spinal injuries and even ejection and death in event of a crash.
Since shoulder straps don't fit them, youngsters tuck them behind them or under an arm and “it's not going to work properly that way,” Herbstreith said. “They're not tall enough, which raises the lap belt up to their stomach, where we don't bend, which could cause back problems the rest of their lives. Have the child sit in back with the belt on. If their knees bend naturally over the seat and touch the floor, then they're tall enough.”
Herbstreith said he has never “seen a parent do something like” singer Britney Spears driving with her infant son in front of her. There is an exception to the seatbelt law in Michigan allowing mothers to breast feed - but as passengers, not while driving.
Indiana exempts seatbelt use in commercial vehicles.
Raise your children right:
they need a booster seat
if they're under 4-foot-9
As children grow, how they sit safely in a car, truck, van or SUV changes. For maximum child passenger safety, parents and caregivers need to remember and follow “four steps for kids”:
1.) Use rear-facing infant seats in the back seat from birth to at least one year of age and at least 20 pounds.
2.) Use forward-facing toddler seats in the back seat from age 1 and 20 pounds to about age 4 and 40 pounds.
3.) Use booster seats in the back seat from about age 4 to at least age 8 - unless the child is 4-foot-9 or taller.
4.) Use safety belts in the back seat at age 8 or older or taller than 4-foot-9.
It is imperative to remember all children under age 13 should ride in the back seat.
Some parents or caregivers may regard booster seats as a hassle to use or a pain to convince their children to use. But protecting loved ones means getting past temporary complaints and perceived hassles because the threat of potential injuries and the lives of children really are at risk. Use a booster seat because you love them.
NHTSA and the Ad Council launched new public service announcements (PSAs) to inform parents of young children that booster seats are the critical (but often forgotten) step needed between car seats and regular safety belts. The campaign includes new television, radio, print, outdoor and online PSAs. The new public service announcements promote the following booster seat messages: Raise your children right. If they're under 4-foot-9, put them in a booster seat.
You can have an expert check for free whether a child safety seat is installed correctly. Go to www.nhtsa.dot.gov and click on “child seat inspections” to find an inspection site near you. Or, call SEATCHECK at 1-866-SEAT-CHECK.
All 50 states and the District of Columbia and Puerto Riceo have laws requiring children to be restrained in motor vehicles. Make sure you know the laws for your state.
For more information about Child Passenger Safety Week and proper use of booster seats, visit www.boosterseat.gov.