Car Seat Campaign

Feb 9, 2007

A Kettering crash safety researcher is making engineering relevant while making kids of all sizes safer in cars.

Almost 2,000 children under 14 die every year in traffic accidents. More than 40 percent of those children that are killed are totally unrestrained, according to the group Advocates for Highway Safety.

Dr. Patrick Atkinson, associate professor of Mechanical Engineering at Kettering University and partner in the Crash Survivors Network with his wife Dr. Theresa Atkinson, has engaged students in his Mech 550-Crash Safety class to address this real-world problem in the classroom.

Atkinson assigned students the task of developing a campaign to educate parents on the need for child safety restraints (car seats and boosters) from birth to 4' 9" tall, and contact Michigan hospitals with obstetrics wards to help get the information to all parents.

The car seat campaign idea came to the Atkinsons after the birth of their fourth child. "Prior to leaving the hospital, we were shown a DVD in the hospital room and given printed information on shaken baby syndrome," said Atkinson, but there was no program to explain how to use a car seat, how to install it or the ramifications of not using it properly."

As crash safety researchers and certified car seat checkers, the Atkinsons realized that new parents weren't being educated on the need for child safety restraints or how to properly use them. "Because of our training the lack of information provided at the hospital did not affect how we took Claire home, but we recognize not all parents have the same training or access to information that we have," Atkinson said.

"The shaken baby syndrome awareness campaign inspired us to replicate it with a campaign focused on car safety restraints," said Atkinson. "OB wards are full of information about child health care issues, such as shaken baby syndrome, but there is nothing about the need for car seats," he added.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration web site, motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for the age group 3 to 14 years old (based on 2003 figures, which are the latest mortality data currently available from the National Center for Health Statistics). In 2005, there were a total of 1,946 traffic fatalities in the U.S. in the 14 and younger age group.

In comparison, every year an estimated 462 children die from injuries attributed to shaken baby syndrome, according to information provided on the National Center on Shaken Baby Syndrome web site.

To coincide with National Child Passenger Safety Week Feb. 11 to 17 and bring real world issues into the classroom, Atkinson had his students contact all 170 hospitals in Michigan to inquire if they have an obstetrics ward and whether they would be willing to participate in a campaign to encourage parents to properly use infant and child safety restraints in motor vehicles.

The students designed posters to be placed in OB wards similar to those used to educated parents on shaken baby syndrome. The campaign is not designed just for first-time parents however, it's for all children, to highlight the importance of safety restraints at every age. "While a great deal of attention has been paid to child safety seats for infants and toddlers, much less attention has been paid to those aged between four and eight and older," according to Judith Lee Stone, president for Advocates for Highway Safety.

"We chose OB wards because they are a great intersection between information available to the public and the individual family," Atkinson said. The long-term plan is to produce enough posters to put one in every delivery/OB room in every hospital in Michigan and to have the next semester of Mech 550 produce a DVD that would show the proper child passenger safety seat to use for different growth phases in children AND emphasize the importance of safety restraints for every family member including adults.

So far the response from hospitals has been overwhelming. "All of them want the resources we are producing, even those with some type of child safety seat awareness program in place," Atkinson said.

In addition to it being a class project the Kettering Crash Safety Center and the Crash Survivors Network are supporting the project as part of their community outreach efforts.

Written by Dawn Hibbard