LYNN – The statistics are difficult to ignore.
Nationwide, automobile crashes are the leading cause of death for children ages 3 to 14.
In Lynn, the Fire Department has been trying to educate parents and guardians about the importance of car seat restraints and how to ensure the devices are properly installed. To further that effort, the department on Friday received a $10,000 grant from the state Executive Office of Public Safety and Security (EOPSS) to expand its child passenger safety initiative.
The EOPSS awarded 24 grants totaling $150,000 to Massachusetts communities and organizations with a public purpose aimed at reducing motor vehicle fatalities and injuries involving children.
“With this grant, the Lynn Fire Department can better serve parents and caregivers who want to protect their children from death or injury by properly securing them in a safety belt, booster seat or child safety seat,” said District Fire Chief Joseph Zukas. “We can also keep reminding adults that they must set a good example for kids by obeying the Massachusetts safety belt law and always buckling up themselves.”
The grant money will be used primarily to purchase child safety seats for distribution to parents and caregivers in need, Zukas said.
In past years, the Fire Department has held drive-in inspection stations behind the Lynnfield Street firehouse where parents or guardians can have their own booster seats or child safety seat properly installed at no charge. Some families may be eligible for a free child safety seat.
In April 2008, Gov. Deval Patrick signed into law Senate Bill 2018, dubbed the Booster Seat Bill. The legislation went into effect on July 10, 2008.
“This enhancement of the Massachusetts Child Passenger Safety Law requires that all children riding in passenger motor vehicles be strapped into a federally approved child passenger restraint that is properly fastened and secured,” said Zukas, noting the law applies to all children under age 8 and to those less than 57 inches tall.
Once a child has outgrown the safety seat, they must use a booster seat. Children age 12 and under are safest when properly restrained in the back seat, ideally away from airbags, Zukas said. The Massachusetts Child Passenger Safety Law is a primary enforcement law. With minor exceptions, a police officer may stop a motor vehicle if a child passenger is improperly restrained. A driver can be fined up to $25 for each improperly restrained child.
Zukas noted that 70 percent of children whose parents do not use safety belts will not buckle up themselves upon reaching adulthood.
A 2009 EOPSS survey found only a 74 percent safety belt use rate among front seat occupants of all ages in Massachusetts – far lower than the national use rate of 83 percent.
This low use rate is a serious public safety and health issue given that safety belts reduce risk of death or serious injury in a crash by up to 50 percent, Zukas said.
For more information on how to obtain or properly install child passenger restraints, call the Massachusetts Child Passenger Safety Hotline at 877-392-5956 or go online to www.mass.gov/childsafetyseats.