Officials look to keep kids safe in cars

yamaro@mercedsunstar.comJanuary 10, 2013 

— Area public health officials are continuing their efforts to lower the rate of child deaths related to motor vehicle crashes in the county.

Medical facilities are now required to provide parents information about car safety.

Last month, nine people from five agencies were trained to become certified car seat technicians and help the county educate more families on the proper use and installation of car seats, said Richard Rios, program manager for the Merced County Department of Public Health.

"Those activities are really trying to emphasize the proper use of car seats and how essential that is to ensure children's safety," he said. "For a number of years, statistics for Merced County had been at a level higher than the rest of the state."

The county rates have been slowly going down, but more work remains.

State data indicate that from 2008 to 2010, the average death rate from motor vehicle injuries in children up to 12 years old in Merced county was nearly twice as high as the state rate average, Rios said. The average rate for the county was 1.17 deaths for every 100,000 children in the county.

The average rate for the state was 0.65 deaths for every 100,000 children, Rios said.

Every child age 8 and younger who is 4 feet, 9 inches tall or shorter must be properly secured in a car seat or booster seat under current law, Rios said.

Under a new law -- Assembly Bill 1452 -- that went into effect this year, hospitals and clinics are required to inform parents of children 8 or younger of additional car safety information at the time of the child's discharge, Rios said. "By using car safety seats and booster seats, (they) can prevent most of these motor vehicle deaths and serious injuries," he said.

Nationwide and statewide, motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death in children up to 12 years old, Rios said. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has listed motor vehicle safety as one of the top 10 public health successes, he added.

Local public health officials are not completely satisfied. "We know that even though the rates have gone lower than what they were 50 years ago, there's still work to be done," Rios said.

Lorena Burrola, resource and referral specialist with the Merced County Office of Education, was among those who became certified car technicians. Burrola, who works closely with child care providers, said it makes a huge difference when a child is properly buckled.

"It's a matter of life and death for the child," she said.

Now that she's certified, she will train the child care providers that she works closely with. Some of them have to transport children in their own vehicles, she said.

It's not only installing the car seat, but also knowing how to use it correctly, Burrola said.

"I think this training should be offered at the hospital before parents leave the hospital," she said. "This is something every parent should know."

Laura DeCocker, deputy director of child welfare services with the Merced County Human Services Agency, said her agency sent an employee to the training last month.

The agency requires anybody who works in child welfare have the training before transporting children, she said. About 100 employees have been or will be trained.

Human Services will provide the training for foster parents and families the agency works with, DeCocker said.

"It sounds simple, but it's a lot more complicated and a lot more difficult than it sounds," said DeCocker, who has gone through the training herself.

Reporter Yesenia Amaro can be reached at (209) 385-2482 or yamaro@mercedsunstar.com.

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