Back-seat safety for children: Putting Federal Way to the test

Mary Bridge Children's hospital, Federal Way police and South King Fire and Rescue have launched a campaign aimed at educating parents and kids about juvenile back-seat safety.

The goal is to change the behavior of students and parents alike, encouraging students under age 13 to ride safely in the back seat of a vehicle.

The campaign, called "Back Seat is Best" entails educational brochures, candid counts of how many students at two local elementary schools were riding in the backseat improperly when dropped off at school, presentations to parents and education-driven visits to the schools by police and fire personnel.

"Lots of kids today, as well as parents, were very surprised that (kids) should be sitting in the back seat," said Lindsey Tiroux, police crime analyst and prevention specialist.

Motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for children ages 3 to 6 and 8 to 14, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. In 2007, 6,532 vehicle passengers age 14 and younger were involved in a fatal crash, according to the administration.

Earlier this month, police and fire personnel monitored how many adults dropped off students who were properly riding as a passenger in the vehicle. The observations were conducted at Sherwood Forest and Twin Lakes elementary schools due to the high number of students who are dropped off and picked up before and after school. At Sherwood Forest, 45 percent of students in 107 vehicles arrived in the front seat on the observation day. At Twin Lakes, 37 percent of students in 56 vehicles were seated in the front seat.

On Jan. 21 and 28, SKFR and police personnel spoke with parents and students at the schools. They provided educational material and encouraged back-seat safety for students.

"The more information we can get out to the families, the better," SKFR spokeswoman Kendra Kay said.

Many of the parents knew their children should be wearing seatbelts, but were unsure the best methods for keeping their kids safe and abiding by the law, Tiroux said. They had questions about the kinds of seating their children should be fastened in, and the height and weight requirements for fastening their young passengers. Adults should do what's safest, Tiroux said.

"It doesn't really have anything to do with those things," she said. "It's how your body fits properly in the seatbelt in the given car."

This next week, police and SKFR will return to the schools to see how much impact they've had on changing unsafe backseat behavior. On Feb. 8 at Sherwood Forest Elementary and on Feb. 12 at Twin Lakes Elementary, police and fire personnel will again take note of how many kids are safely riding and secured in the back seat when they are dropped off at the start of the school day. Students who practice safe riding habits will be rewarded. Those who do not will receive a fake ticket.

For adults, the tickets are a reminder that disobeying Washington's child passenger safety laws can be costly. According to Washington law, the driver of a vehicle may be fined for the improper restraint of a child passenger. If a child is between the ages of 8 and 13 and measures less than 4-feet 9-inches, the law requires the child be fastened with a seatbelt in the back seat of a vehicle, if practical. The fine for disobeying this law is $124.

Check it out

If a child cannot do all of the following, he or she ought to be seated and fastened in a booster seat while riding in the given vehicle:

• Sit up straight against the vehicle's seat back

• Bend legs naturally at the edge of the seat

• Sit comfortably without slouching for the entire ride

• Keep lap belt down on the hips, touching the thighs

• Sit with shoulder belt across the center of the shoulder

Data gathered from a 2009 Safe Ride News Publications fact sheet

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