Its long been a vexing challenge for road-safety advocates: how to increase the use of child safety restraints and seat belts among blacks and Hispanics.
A new study by researchers at the University of Michigan shows theres still work to do: The study, published last month in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, finds that black and Hispanic infants and toddlers are unrestrained at rates 10 times those of white children; among older children, theres a two-fold difference.
An 8-year-old, church-based, family-focused initiative by Cincinnati Childrens Hospital Medical Center and automaker Toyota is helping make a dent. The program, Buckle Up for Life, works through churches to overcome cultural, educational and economic barriers to restraint use by minorities.
Over a six-week period, people are taught the safety implications of not buckling up and restraining their children. They can get free car seats, and experts help install them properly. Restraint usage at Cincinnati-area churches jumped significantly after the program was implemented, according to studies by the hospital and Toyota.
The program is offered in churches in Cincinnati, Chicago, Los Angeles, San Antonio, Houston and Las Vegas, and there are plans to expand this year to Philadelphia and Orange County, Calif., and to other cities next year.
More than 45,000 people have completed the program, and more than 20,000 child seats have been distributed, says Patricia Pineda, group vice president at Toyota Motor North America.
Minorities are not the only Americans who have troubling issues with vehicle restraint, particularly involving children.
The University of Michigan study found that few parents keep their children in rear-facing seats until age 2, as recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics. Also, many parents allow children 12 and younger to sit in the front seat, instead of the rear, as recommended by safety experts.
Those trends are especially troubling, because motor vehicle crashes are the top killer of children ages 1 to 12 in the USA, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
Though seat belt use nationally has risen to 84 percent, usage is lower than the national average for African Americans and Hispanics.
A study by the NHTSA in 2007 found that many blacks and Hispanics had negative attitudes about seat belts, and more than half of those surveyed said seat belts are just as likely to harm you as help you.
Sol Villanueva, 20, of Erlanger, Ky., near Cincinnati, says she first learned the importance of child restraint use in 2006 when her parents took her and her little brother to Cristo Rey Church in Erlanger. She says she recently took her son, Adrian, 2, back to the church for a refresher and a child seat.
They tell you about how kids go flying through the window if theyre not restrained, Villanueva says. They show videos of people having accidents because they didnt place their children in the proper seat. Those were kind of scary.
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