Sweet lesson on carseat safety for children

American safety activist Kathy Kruger. Photo / Paul Estcourt

American safety activist Kathy Kruger [right]

Kathy Kruger gets through a lot of Twinkie bars when demonstrating the need for youngsters to be secured at all times in proper restraints when riding in cars.

The American safety activist, the opening speaker at a two-day Plunket child restraint conference starting in Auckland tomorrow, uses the sponge bars – a ubiquitous confectionary in the United States – and their squishy cream fillings to show youngsters in a “non-scary” way what adult seat-belts can do to their soft abdominal parts in a crash.

She and her team at the Washington State Safety Restraint Coalition invite children to hold the bars in their cellophane wrappers while imagining they are riding in a car without the booster seats needed to lift them out of harm’s way.

“We tell them to hold on to the Twinkie and when this dog runs out in front of the car, you squeeze this, and we say to the kids: What does it look like?”  “They’ll say it mooshed or smooshed, so we say we don’t want that to happen to you – we don’t want you smooshed, so sit in a booster seat.”

Like the wrappers, children’s skin may remain intact in a crash, but internal injuries can be serious.

New Zealand drivers, except for taxi operators, must ensure all children under 5 are held by properly-fitted restraints of the right size – whether booster seats, car seats or baby capsules. But the law, which Plunket and the Paediatric Society are campaigning to strengthen, requires children aged 5 to 7 to be held in proper restraints only if these are present in a vehicle.

Although the Government has in its new Safer Journeys road safety strategy adopted a goal of making booster seats the norm for children aged 5 to 10 by 2020, it has no immediate plans for legislation to ensure this happens.

Ms Kruger was reluctant to pass judgment on New Zealand laws, but said all children in Washington State must be held in proper restraints at least until they turn 8 or grow to a height of 145cm.  The Ministry of Transport has suggested a possible two-stage strengthening of child restraint laws to bring these into line with “international best practice”.

It says the economic benefit would be three times the installation cost of $80 for each child.  The ministry estimates that strengthening the law would save one child’s life and prevent five serious injuries each year, yielding an annual saving of $9.8 million.

Tomorrow’s conference follows the deaths in Auckland last month of two young boys, a 6-year-old who was hurled from a van on the Southern Motorway, and a 4-year-old, who was wearing an adult seat-belt without a child restraint when a car his grandmother was driving crashed near Redvale.

The second boy’s 6-year-old sister, also wearing an adult seat-belt, was paralysed in the crash.

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