A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Buckle Up for Life: Learning how to install safe car seats, providing free ones in Fort Mitchell, Erlanger

What if there was a way to prevent a leading cause of childhood death, but three out of four of us were doing it wrong? The startling truth is that 75 percent of child safety seats in the U.S. are not used correctly.

The good news is, Buckle Up for Life, a national child safety restraint program created by Toyota and Cincinnati Children’s, are sharing child passenger safety education with area families through a new partnership with the cities of Erlanger and Fort Mitchell, Kentucky. The partnership started this week with the hopes of creating safer roadways in Northern Kentucky.

Through the program, the cities have received 52 convertible car seats and 24 booster seats. After the seats have been given to families in need, the partnership will be looking towards local businesses for donations to continue the efforts and make the program venture well into the future.

The partnership that has been created will venture far past its initial intentions, with future visions of community-based classes on child passenger safety, installation issues, CPR training, and other child safety-oriented trainings.

The partnership will approach local groups to help identify families that may otherwise not be able to afford the child safety seats. The families will then be directed to either the Fort Mitchell or Erlanger Fire Department where they will be paired with a trained child restraint installation specialist.

The trained child restraint installation specialists will work closely with families and caregivers to educate them about all aspects of car seats, booster seats, and seat belts. Families in need will be matched with a certified child passenger safety technician to receive a free car seat and will learn how to install them properly.

“Many people are surprised to learn that three out of four car seats in the U.S. are installed incorrectly,” said Fort Mitchell Fire Chief Adam Fuller. “However, we know that many injuries and deaths are avoidable through the proper use of seat belts, child safety seats, and booster seats. That’s why the Buckle Up for Life program is so important.”

One reason for child safety seats to not properly be installed is because they can be difficult to operate.

Erlanger Deputy Fire Chief Rhonda Wolfe, left, and Fort Mitchell Fire Chief Adam Fuller assist a woman with a free car seat through the Buckle Up For Life program at an event Monday in Fort Mitchell.

“Many parents don’t realize how important it is to keep an infant/toddler rear facing as long as possible,” said Rhonda Wolfe, Deputy Erlanger Fire Chief-Emergency Medical Services. “Children in the second year of life are five times less likely to die or be seriously injured in a crash if restrained rear-facing compared to forward-facing.

“Harness placement is very important as well and it differs between rear-facing to forward facing,” said Deputy Chief Wolfe. “The harnesses are attached snugly, at or below the shoulders for rear-facing to keep the child from sliding up the back of the seat and from flying out of the seat in a crash. Forward facing harnesses are snugly secured at or above the shoulders.”

While this program is underway, Erlanger and Fort Mitchell police will offer a free car seat and booster seat to families and caregivers that, during a traffic stop, are found to have a child not properly restrained in an age-appropriate child safety seat.

The driver will be instructed to go to the Erlanger or Fort Mitchell fire department, where a certified technician will install a seat while providing the driver with instructions on how to properly install and operate the seat.

“A car seat that is improperly installed can mean the difference between life and death in a collision,” said Erlanger Police Officer Charlie Loudermilk. “This approach works. Community organizations that have offered the program have observed a great improvement in auto safety behaviors. In one example, the rate of children unrestrained in cars decreased from one in four to fewer than one in 20.”

Learning about car seats.

We know that proper use of car seats and booster seats can mean the difference between life and death in a crash,” said Gloria Del Castillo, child passenger safety expert at Cincinnati Children’s and senior specialist of community engagement for Buckle Up for Life. “That’s why Buckle Up for Life is so committed to our work with Erlanger and Fort Mitchell to teach parents, caregivers and children in Northern Kentucky about the proper use of car seats and provide free seats to families in need.”

Families and caregivers who want more information about obtaining a car seat or booster seat can call:
• Fort Mitchell Fire Department, 859-331-1267 
• Erlanger Fire Department, 859-727-2488

Buckle Up for Life is a national injury prevention program for families, created by Toyota and Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center in 2004, to help keep child passengers safe. The program partners with leading children’s hospitals, community organizations, local governments, schools, and non-profit organizations to teach parents and children about the proper use of car seats and seat belts and to provide free car seats to families in need.

Buckle Up for Life has reached more than 91,000 people nationwide and has partnerships in 172 cities including New York, Dallas, Memphis, Phoenix, Chicago, Cincinnati, Houston, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Orange County, and San Antonio – and expands to new partners each year. In one city alone, the program nearly tripled the use of proper car seats in participating families. Toyota has provided funding for over 40,000 car seats for families in need.  

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