Operation Thunder uncovers significant danger to children
One of the biggest surprises to come out of Operation Thunder, the three-month campaign to curtail dangerous driving, is the number of child restraint violations. On Sunday alone, three road checks (Boykin Road, Kissingbower Road and Skinner Mill Road) yielded 48 child restraint violations.
In one day.
Given the importance most parents put on child safety, those numbers are staggering, but maybe not as much as this statistic, provided by Rene Hopkins, coordinator of Safe Kids of Greater Augusta, a program led by the Children’s Hospital of Georgia: nine out of 10 car seats are used or installed incorrectly.
“What happens is manufacturers for car seats have a set of federal standards that they have to meet for safety and car manufacturers have a set of federal standards that they have to meet,” Hopkins says. “How each of these companies meets that set of federal standards is completely up to them.”
In other words, car seats and the cars they are destined for don’t always speak the same language, leading to that large number of improperly installed seats and the significant danger that’s associated with it.
The most frequent problems they find are that seats are installed too loosely or ones where the systems are not used properly.
“It’s not like parents are trying to do it incorrectly,” Hopkins says. “You don’t know what you don’t know until somebody points it out.” Because of that, Safe Kids has several different programs geared toward making sure children are safely secured.
According to Hopkins, Safe Kids operates three child safety seat inspection stations throughout the area. These free, by-appointment inspections are intended to make sure that the car seats being used have not been recalled and are installed properly.
The technicians who conduct the inspections have completed a 32-hour certification course and are required to put in an additional six hours of training every two years to remain current.
“It’s really important that they remain currently certified, because it’s an ever-changing field,” Hopkins says.
In addition to the child safety seat inspection stations, Safe Kids also holds child seat safety classes twice a month. Funded by grants from the State Department of Public Health through the Governor’s Office of Highway Safety, these classes are designed primarily for those who can’t afford car seats. There is a $10 fee per registered child for the two-hour class and, at the end, participants receive a voucher for a car seat. Along with the voucher comes an appointment at one of the safety seat inspection stations, where they will pick up the car seat and demonstrate that they know how to use it.
Operation Thunder is a multi-agency effort that also utilizes the Georgia State Patrol, all of whom have active child passenger certifications, meaning that they’ve all received the specialized training to quickly and accurately identify improperly used child safety seats. And while that ability can be influencing the numbers of warnings issued — remember, nine out of 10 seats are improperly installed — Lt. Lewis Blanchard, who is the assistant coordinator for the regional Governor’s Office of Highway Safety, paints a more depressing picture of what’s going on out there on the roads.
“Ninety five percent of ours — they’re not in the seat at all,” he says. “There’s not even a seat in the car.”
And many times, it’s not a mistake by parents, but a conscious decision.
“I’ve even been on a road check before where we’ve actually pulled the person over, given him a citation, then actually gave them a child seat on the side of the road because Walmart helps a lot with donated child seats, and stopped them the next day and there’s no child seat in the car,” he says. “He admitted to selling it.”
Though he says it’s impossible to get through to someone like that individual, programs like the ones provided by Safe Kids and others mean that no child should ever be without a proper car seat.
“The mechanisms are in place where individuals who can’t afford car seats can get them for free,” he says. “There’s truly no excuse.”
One of the ways he likes to get through to people is to use the DUI statistics, which are nearly as alarming.
Along with the 48 child restraint violations Sunday night there were 16 documented DUIs.
“If you look at the numbers of DUIs and then you look at the child restraint numbers — we want to say that if we’re getting this many DUIs at the same time and on the same roadways where you’re riding around with your child unrestrained…” He lets his voice trail off. “Please, think about this.”
And while the he understands — to a point — the civil libertarian argument against fining an adult for not wearing a seatbelt, he says there is no justification at all for not buckling up a child.
“I have no sympathy,” he says. “A child cannot do that for himself. He can not make those decisions. We’re the adults — we have to do that for them.” You Might Also Like: