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State's focus on car safety for kids

By DAVID HARPER
Tulsa World
10/30/2006

The fine for failure to use a child restraint system nearly quadrupled last year.

Oklahoma Highway Patrol Lt. Pete Norwood says violating the state's child vehicle restraint law now carries a fine that hits violators hard in the pocketbook.

"That fine is a serious chunk of change," Norwood said. "It will take a bite out of your Christmas budget."

Specifically, the Oklahoma Department of Public Safety reports that a ticket for failure to use a child passenger restraint system has been $196.90 since last Nov. 1. It used to be $50.

However, despite such stiff penalties in Oklahoma and elsewhere, a report issued last week by State Farm and the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia showed that nationally 46 percent of children ages 4 to 8 years old were improperly restrained in adult seat belts.

This made those children three times more likely to be injured in a crash than younger infants and toddlers, according to the study.

Oklahoma state law calls for children under age 6 to be properly secured using a child restraint system. Children older than 6 but younger than 13 are to be protected by such a system or by a seat belt.

There are a variety of exceptions carved out for children who are being transported in certain types of vehicles such as school buses and ambulances and for special circumstances, such as children who cannot be placed in such devices for medical reasons.

Officer Jason Willingham said Tulsa police have written 1,709 no-child-restraint citations this year through Wednesday.

In 2005, the Oklahoma Highway Safety Office released statistics that showed child safety seat usage was at 82.7 percent, up from 80.6 percent the previous year.

Oklahoma is one of 25 states that allow police to stop vehicles for seat-belt law violations, according to the study released last week.

Kathy Evans, data analyst for the Oklahoma Highway Safety Office, said there were 64,061 citations written by OHP for seatbelt and child restraint violations in 2005.

Evans said statistics show that 13 children between 4 and 8 years old died in Oklahoma in passenger vehicle or pickup truck accidents in 2005. She said reports show only one of those 13 were reported to be fastened in child restraint systems.

The national study released last week quoted Kristi Arbogast, director of field engineering at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia as saying, "As children get older, their risk of being injured in a crash increases, primarily because they're being moved from the protection of child seats with harness es, into adult seat belts, and into the front seat."

Arbogast recommends transporting children in the back seat until they are 13 years old. She also believes that children should use a booster seat from around 4 years of age until they are 4 feet, 9 inches tall.

The study indicates that sometimes restraints are used, but are used incorrectly. For children under the age of 8 years, following guidelines for age and size-appropriate restraints can reduce the risk of serious injury in a vehicle crash to less than 1 percent, according to the study.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, more than 50 percent of the people killed in motor vehicle accidents in 2005 were not wearing seat belts.

The Tulsa metropolitan area leads the state in seat belt usage, at just more than 90 percent of drivers and front-seat passengers, a recent Oklahoma Highway Safety Office report shows. That number was up from 86 percent in 2004.

Still, Norwood said it is frustrating when troopers find children who are not properly secured.

"Adults make that decision for them," Norwood said.



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David Harper 581-8359
david.harper@tulsaworld.com