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What You Don't Know About Your Vehicle Can Hurt You
by B.J. Killeen

The most worrisome day in a person’s life is the day you bring your newborn baby home from the hospital. From then on, you never stop worrying about that child’s safety. Whether it’s electrical outlets or cleaning supplies or everyday accidents, you do your best to keep the evils of the world away. Unfortunately, when you get into a vehicle, outside forces may conspire to do your family harm. We want to update you on what’s happening with child and occupant safety in today’s highly technical and greatly improved vehicles.

Although the word has gone out for more than two years about children and airbags, there are still deaths being attributed to children in safety seats placed in front. Thankfully, many state agencies are conducting “car seat checkups,” which stop vehicles at prescribed checkpoints and verify that a child’s seat is correctly mounted, children are in the back, and parents are buckled up. One of these checkpoints actually saved the life of Tezra Haire’s son, Zuriel, when a member of the checkup team insisted she move her eight-month-old son to the back seat. Two hours later, they were in an airbag-deploying crash, which would have been deadly if her son had been in the front seat, where she had originally placed him.

General Motors, in partnership with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the National Safety Council, the American Medical Association, and corporations such as Sears, Blockbuster Video, Nationwide Insurance, and others, have been distributing a booklet called Precious Cargo: Protecting the Children That Ride With You. The booklet includes answers to questions about how child seats work, when to use them, how airbags work, how seatbelts work, and how to use them properly. More than two million books were distributed in 1998, and versions were printed in English, Spanish, and French.

According to statistics, one out of five child safety seats is used incorrectly, and 40 percent of children aren’t restrained at all. Motor vehicle crashes are a leading cause of child deaths in America. Each year, more than 1,800 children ages 14 and under die in automobile crashes, and more than 280,000 are injured. The goal of these information programs is to reduce these numbers drastically.

All three domestic manufacturers, General Motors, Ford, and Chrysler, are involved in some type of buckle-up campaign designed to increase awareness of child safety as well as general awareness of safety features found in their respective vehicles.

The National Safe Kids Campaign is spearheaded by former Surgeon General Dr. C. Everett Koop, with honorary chairs held by Vice President and Mrs. Al Gore. The campaign encompasses not only car crashes but all childhood injury prevention. It began in 1989 and has helped save thousands of lives by making parents and the general public aware of how many ways children can suffer accidents and fatalities.

Manufacturers are increasing awareness about not only child safety but vehicle safety in general. Safety used to be reserved for those who could afford top-end cars like a Mercedes-Benz or Volvo. Now there’s an amazingly high amount of standard safety features even in under-$15,000 vehicles.

We all know about anti-lock brakes, traction control, and airbags. Manufacturers have now expanded their safety corral to include items like GM’s OnStar, which works not only as a navigational aid but as an instant safety feature that will notify emergency personnel the moment the airbag is deployed and can find the vehicle using satellite applications. With Med-Net, OnStar will have all your medical information in advance and can notify paramedics if you are allergic to certain medications or have any pre-existing conditions they need to be aware of before administering first aid.

General Motors has also created a child-resistant trunk kit, which provides an escape handle should a child become locked in a trunk.
A rash of deaths were attributed to this tragedy last summer, when children play outdoors and tend to find an open trunk an inviting hiding space. Ford, beginning on the 2000 Taurus, will include the trunk-release handle standard on all its models, and this feature will carry over to every Ford Motor Company project. The handle is intended not just for children but also for adults who have been carjacked and find themselves in the trunk of their vehicles.

There’s more news on airbags, as well: Side airbags are becoming available as options from most manufacturers. Also, Cadillac will be the first on the market with Night Vision, a thermal-imaging technology that enhances a driver’s ability to see objects that normally would be invisible at night. In addition, more accurate test dummies have helped this safety progress faster than we can imagine. Let’s hope in the next 50 years, children’s deaths from automotive accidents will be a faded memory.

For free Safe Kids Buckle Up materials, call 800-441-1888, or write to the national Safe Kids Campaign, Dept. SKBU, 1301 Pennsylvania Avenue, Washington, DC 20004. You can also visit the Web site at for a list of upcoming Car Seat checkups.