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When children ride with drunken drivers

Between 1997 and 2002, 68 percent of U.S. children killed in alcohol-related crashes were riding in the same vehicle as the drunken driver. These children were less likely to be properly restrained than children who died in crashes that did not involve alcohol. Strong enforcement of impaired-driving laws, child safety seat laws, and safety belt laws could further reduce child passenger deaths.

Worldwide, 1.2 million people die each year from road traffic-related injuries. Developing countries suffer the greatest losses, but the United States alone loses more than 40,000 people to motor vehicle crashes annually.

These statistics have prompted the World Health Organization to address road safety as the critical global public health issue for World Health Day on Wednesday.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Injury Center offers these U.S. facts to highlight the problem:

Motor vehicle injuries are the greatest public health problem facing U.S. children. Of the 459 children age 4 and younger who were fatally injured in 2002, 40 percent were completely unrestrained.

Two out of five deaths among U.S. teens result from motor vehicle crashes. Per mile driven, teen drivers between 16 and 19 are four times more likely to crash than more mature drivers. Fatal and nonfatal crashes involving drivers ages 15 to 20 cost an estimated $40.8 billion in 2002.

Second only to HIV/AIDS, road traffic injuries are the leading cause of death for males ages 15 to 44.

Such injuries are the leading cause of death for all people between 1 and 34 years of age.

Alcohol-related motor vehicle crashes kill someone every 30 minutes, injure someone every two minutes, and accounted for 41 percent of all traffic-related deaths in 2002. The total cost of alcohol-related crashes exceeded $50 billion in 2000, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

The economic burden caused by motor vehicle-related injuries is also evidenced by higher insurance premiums, more time away from work for caregivers, and other financial costs to individuals, their families, their communities and society as a whole.

Too often, drivers view these types of injuries and deaths as beyond their control. But the risk factors are known, making motor vehicle-related injuries preventable. That is why each event described above is referred to as a "wreck" or a "crash" and not labeled an "accident."

To avoid becoming a preventable statistic, adopt these habits as a driver and as a passenger:

Be alert.

NHTSA estimates that human factors, such as fatigue and distractions, are a contributing cause of 90 percent of motor vehicle crashes.

Buy safe vehicles.

Wear your seat belt.

In virtually all crashes, it will prevent occupants from being ejected. The survival rate for passenger car occupants who are ejected is a meager 25 percent.

Seat belt usage on all roads in Montana rose to 79 percent in 2001, up from just 29 percent in 1986. However, seat belt use in Montana cities is less than 60 percent, an increase from 20 percent in 1986.

Within Havre, only 46 percent of motor vehicle occupants buckle up, according to seat belt observation surveys completed by the Safe Kids/Safe Communities Coalition.

Use child safety restraints properly.

Child safety seats and safety belts, when correctly installed and used, can prevent injury and save lives. Riding unrestrained is the greatest risk factor for death and injury among child occupants of motor vehicles, according to the National Safe Kids Campaign.

It's the law. Montana's new Child Safety Restraint Law took effect in October. The law states that children who are under 6 years of age or weigh less than 60 pounds must ride in a child safety restraint. A standard safety belt may not be used as the sole restraint until the child is at least 6 years old and weighs at least 60 pounds. Every motor vehicle must have one restraint for each child in the vehicle, and each child must be properly restrained. Violation of this law is punishable by a fine of up to $100.

Nearly a third of children ride in the wrong restraints for their age and size. Recent data from the Crash Injury Research & Engineering Network indicate that inappropriately restrained children are nearly 3 times more likely to be seriously injured than their appropriately restrained counterparts.

Unsure about how to use or install a child safety restraint? The Hill County Safe Kids/Safe Communities Coalition offers child safety restraint checkups throughout the year and by appointment. Call 265-6206 for more information.

Don't drink and drive.

Between 1982 and 2001, alcohol-related fatal crashes among drivers 16 to 20 years of age decreased almost 60 percent. This suggests that prevention measures targeting underage drinkers have been effective.

Unfortunately, after a decade of gradual success, fatalities in alcohol-related crashes have not significantly improved nationally in the last three years. NHTSA estimates that alcohol-related fatalities rose slightly from 17,400 in 2001 to 17,419 in 2002.

Follow the speed limit.

Obey the rules of the road.

Support consistent enforcement of traffic laws.

The HELP Committee and Boys & Girls Club of the Hi-Line is committed to providing club members and the community with opportunities to become long-lived, responsible citizens. For more information on this or related topics, call 265-6206.


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