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SEARHC study shows high car seat use, lower for seat belts

JUNEAU, April 16, 2012 — The SouthEast Alaska Regional Health Consortium (SEARHC) Tribal Motor Vehicle Injury Prevention Program recently completed an observation survey of vehicles in Juneau that showed high use of child car seats, but lower than average seat belt use.

The program used procedures adapted from the Indian Health Service Ride Safe Program for its observational study, observing vehicles driving in areas of Juneau likely to have high Alaska Native/American Indian use (such as the roads to SEARHC or other tribal facilities). In the car seat study, SEARHC observers made 92 observations in 12 locations of vehicles carrying children, and 97.5 percent of them were using child safety seats. That is higher than the national average of 89.0 percent and the state average of 85.0 percent.

In the seat belt use study, SEARHC observers made 788 total observations in 41 locations (672 drivers, 116 passengers). The drivers used seat belts 76.3 percent of the time, passengers 68.1 percent of the time, for a total seat belt usage of 75.1 percent. The 75.1 percent total usage was lower than the state average of 86.8 percent and the national average of 90.0 percent.

“Alaska Native seatbelt use rates identified in Juneau are not very different from the current Alaska-wide seatbelt use rate of 86.8 percent,” SEARHC Passenger Safety Program Manager Lorena Gray said. “However, we feel that additional enforcement of seatbelt use laws will have a positive effect on getting the Juneau community to buckle up. Our car seat use data revealed a very high usage of car seats. Even with a high number of users, the chances of incorrect installation and/or incorrect car seat for the child’s height and weight could be a factor. Overall the car seat rates we observed were positive. We will continue to encourage parents/caregivers to schedule an appointment with a certified car seat technician to ensure the correct installation and fit of the car seat for their child.”

The SEARHC Passenger Safety Program can provide free car seat check-ups for those who want to make sure they have the proper-fitting seat for their car model and child. State law requires children through age 8 (who are less than 4 feet, 9 inches tall or weigh less than 65 pounds) to sit in an approved child passenger seat or booster seat when riding in an automobile.

Fitting a child’s car seat is difficult because there is wide variety of car seat designs and motor vehicle types, and children come in all sizes, shapes and behaviors. It’s no wonder that only 17 percent of the more than 1,500 car seats in Alaska checked by certified Child Passenger Safety Technicians (from October 2007 to September 2008) were properly installed. An improperly fitting child car seat significantly raises the risk of injury or death for a child. The risk of death is 71 percent higher for infants and 54 percent higher for toddlers ages 1-4 years old when not using child safety seats, and booster seats reduce the injury risk by 59 percent for children ages 4-7 years old.

For more information about child car seat fitting and how to schedule a fitting with SEARHC in Juneau, contact Health Advocate Lorena Gray of the SEARHC Passenger Safety Program at 364-4456 or lorena.gray@searhc.org. To learn more about the importance of a properly fitting child car seat, go to http://www.carseatsak.org/.

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