There's a deadly epidemic running rampant through our streets, infecting millions of men, women and children each year in communities across our nation. The shocking part is that most Americans don't even think of it as a health problem at all.
Suddenly and without warning, another victim is struck down every 16 seconds. More than 40,000 otherwise healthy Americans die every year. Over half a million are hospitalized. Another 4 million end up in emergency rooms.
The epidemic is motor vehicle injuries. And it's caused by the common, everyday, ordinary - but totally preventable - traffic crash.
Most people aren't aware that, beyond the terrible human tragedy of vehicle crashes, motor-vehicle crashes have a hidden economic cost.
Each year, we spend $150 billion as a result of motor-vehicle crashes. Nearly 10 percent of that is paid by public funds - your tax dollars.
About $17 billion is spent on medical costs, nearly 85 percent in the form of higher Medicare costs and more expensive health insurance premiums.
Employers are hit particularly hard. Each year, American businesses pay over $50 billion for the cost of on-the-job and off-the-job crashes.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says doctors generally agree that most medical conditions are predictable and can either be prevented or controlled. And so can motor vehicle injuries.
We've too often disguised the truth about traffic crashes and the resulting injuries by labeling them as accidents. By doing so, we preserve the myth that crashes "simply happen" or that "it couldn't be helped."
We need to change the way we look at traffic crashes and we must influence the actions that it takes to reduce traffic deaths and injuries. NHTSA is encouraging communities to organize in order to make their communities safer.
In Hill County, the Safe Kids/Safe Communities Coalition, a grant program funded through the HELP Committee and Boys & Girls Club of the Hi-Line, has a broad spectrum of members who are interested in making our area safer by addressing impaired driving and occupant protection with an emphasis on safety belts and child safety seats.
Motor vehicle crashes are the No. 1 killer of children ages 2 to 14. Protecting children from the serious trauma of injury caused by a crash involves securing them properly in the vehicle in which they are riding.
Keeping children safe on the road means putting them in the right restraint at the right age. During Child Passenger Safety Week, which began Sunday, the Hill County SK/SC Coalition encourages parents and child-care providers to know and follow every one of the Four Steps for Kids. Because the booster seat step is often missed, leaving children in the 40 pound to 80 pound stage vulnerable, the week emphasizes booster seat information.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that only 10 percent to 20 percent of children who should be restrained in booster seats ride in one.
A booster seat raises a child up so that the safety belt fits properly. NHTSA recommends the use of booster seats in the back seat by children from about age 4 and 40 pounds to at least age 8 unless the child is 4 feet 9 inches tall.
Many parents and caregivers rely on state laws for guidance on which child passenger restraint to use. But as of December, only 22 states and the District of Columbia included provisions requiring booster seats in their child restraint laws. Not all laws, including Montana's new law, cover all children who should be in the booster seats.
The Four Steps for Kids are:
Rear-facing infant seats in the back seat from birth to at least 1 year old and at least 20 pounds.
Forward-facing toddler seats in the back seat from age 1 to about age 4 and 20 to 40 pounds.
Booster seats in the back seat from about age 4 and 40 pounds to at least age 8, unless 4 feet 9 inches tall.
Safety belts at age 8 or older or taller than 4 feet 9 inches. All children 12 and under should ride in the back seat.
Moving to a safety belt too early greatly increases risk of injury. Children ages 2 to 5 who are prematurely graduated to safety belts are four times more likely to suffer a serious head injury than those restrained in child safety seats or booster seats.
The Hill County Safe Kids/Safe Communities Coalition provides child safety seat inspections periodically throughout the year or by appointment. It also has a limited number of car seats and booster seats available for purchase. A limited number of booster seats are available free of charge. They are not compatible with all vehicles, however, so installation by appointment is required, just as it is for all child safety restraints.
For more information about this and other related passenger safety topics, or to learn more about Hill County SK/SC Coalition, contact LuAnn McLain with the HELP Committee, 265-6206.