University of Georgia Cooperative Extension agents in Telfair and Tattnall counties help children travel safely by teaching their parents how to properly install car seats.
These agents deliver free, communitywide car seat safety classes, where they equip parents with the knowledge and often the proper car seat or booster seat parents need to keep their children as safe as possible while traveling in a vehicle.
Telfair County Extension Coordinator and Family and Consumer Sciences (FACS) Agent Laura Smith collaborates with the Telfair County Emergency Management Agency, the Telfair County Sheriff’s Office and Telfair County Pre-K to offer a monthly Child Passenger Safety Class. Smith trains participants using a child seat training simulator donated by the local Woodmen of the World chapter.
“I really love the educational component of this program, which empowers parents across all socio-economic lines to ensure their children ride safely,” Smith said.
In 2017, Smith distributed 18 convertible car seats and one high-back booster seat to families who attended the classes.
Tattnall County Extension Coordinator and Family and Consumer Sciences Agent Rachel Stewart teaches child seat safety classes in Tattnall County once or twice per week, depending on the community’s needs. Stewart demonstrates how to properly install a car seat.
From 2016 to 2017, she provided safe booster seats for 120 children whose families participated in the classes.
“Before leaving, parents must demonstrate the proper installation with their car seat,” Stewart said. “I encourage them to bring their children and other family members that assist with buckling children up, because I want to remedy this problem and keep the children of Tattnall County safe.”
UGA Extension personnel make child safety a priority because of the alarmingly high number of car seats that are incorrectly installed.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reports that between 80 and 90 percent of car seats are not correctly installed. According to the National Survey of the Use of Booster Seats, 66 percent of traffic fatalities in children ages 5 and older were due to children not wearing seatbelts.
Stewart and Smith hope to change statistics like these through their UGA Extension classes.
“People think buckling their child’s seat in a car is a simple task, but there are certain steps required by law that they have to follow in order for their child to be safe,” Stewart said. “When the driver makes a sharp turn here or there, that car seat should not move given proper installation.”
Further, car seats have expiration dates.
“A typical car seat lasts six years,” Stewart said. “They’re made of plastic, and plastic breaks down over time. Parents must check the expiration date on the back of their car seats in order to keep their children safe.”
Stewart’s program received two grants, one from the Governor’s Office of Highway Safety and one from the Toyota and Cincinnati Children’s Hospital’s Buckle Up for Life program. Tattnall County Extension received more than 100 car seats to give to county residents who participate in a class and need a proper car seat. Participants receive this car seat at no cost.
Before participants leave Smith’s class, they are required to properly install car seats on the seat simulator and in their personal vehicle.
“One hundred percent of participants are doing this correctly, and it is a strong indicator that Telfair County children are now riding safely as a result of this program,” Smith said.
For information on how to properly install a child safety seat, visit the Georgia Governor’s Office of Highway Safety website at gahighwaysafety.org/campaigns/child-passenger-safety/safety-tips/.
Julie Jernigan is an intern at the UGA Tifton campus.