The Richmond Register

February 4, 2013

After-school seat belt, back seat usage is up in Madison County

By Crystal Wylie
Register News Writer

MADISON COUNTY —

In a scene from the popular 1960s-based TV show “Mad Men,” Betty Draper is driving her ’57 Ford Country Sedan with her children, Sally and Bobby, playing in the back seat.

Bobby giggles and climbs into the front seat as Mrs. Draper takes her eyes off the road to watch a neighbor unpacking. Bobby climbs into the back seat again.

Mrs. Draper loses feeling in her hands and her car runs into a concrete birdbath. The children were tossed onto the floorboards, but were still giggling, unharmed.

Thankfully, society is far removed from the safety standards of the 1950s and '60s, but the percentage of children observed at 11 local elementary schools, buckled correctly in the mornings, was just over half, 57.43 percent. The number improves to 68.57 percent as children leave in the afternoon.

As a rule, children must sit in the backseat if they are not a teenager, said Lloyd Jordison, coordinator of the Madison County Safety Coalition and a nurse with the health department.

All buckled passengers also must have the shoulder strap across their chest, instead of under their arm or behind their back, he said.

Last fall, Berea College nursing students stood at the entrance of local schools in the morning as students arrived and in the afternoon as they departed.

They were checking to see if the elementary-aged children were sitting in the back seat and whether they were buckled correctly. If the observers could not make a clear inspection, they did not record the data.

A total of 1,273 front/back seat observations and 1,230 seat belt observations were made.

One significant difference appeared in the results: More students were buckled correctly in the back seat as they were leaving school than when they arrived.

“One of the strategies used at schools is for teachers to stand outside and open the back door of the vehicle so students are encouraged to sit in the back seat,” Jordison said. “It does help when teachers open that back door.”

About 74 percent of students were sitting in the back seat in the afternoons compared to 64 percent in the morning.

This is an improvement, Jordison said. When the study began ten years ago, only about 50 percent of children were buckled correctly and were in the back seat.

“The reason we started this (study), we noticed when we were doing our car seat checks (at the health department), parents with good intentions were putting booster seats in the front,” he said. “We knew there was an education opportunity here.”

The safety coalition began sending flyers home to parents through the schools’ Family Resource & Youth Services Centers and placed between 30 and 40 yellow signs all around the county that read: “Always buckle children in the back seat.”

Some surrounding counties have followed their lead, Jordison said.

Overall seat belt usage in Madison County is now more than 80 percent, he said. And seat belt rates have improved with “Click it or Ticket” primary seat belt laws (officers can ticket a driver or passenger for not wearing a seat belt, without any other traffic offense taking place).

According to the National Safety Council, seat belt use averages 88 percent nationally (compared with 69 percent in 1998), but there are still groups less likely to wear seat belts: teens, commercial drivers, males in rural areas, pick-up truck drivers, people driving at night and people who have been drinking.

Seat belts saved more than 75,000 lives from 2004 to 2008 and 42 percent of passenger vehicle occupants killed in 2007 were unbelted, according to the National Safety Council.

That last 20 percent of unbelted drivers “might be a little harder to get,” Jordison said. “But that’s why we keep fighting the good fight.”

Crystal Wylie can be reached at cwylie@richmondregister.com

or 623-1669, Ext. 6696.