Most of us have seen signs that say, “Buckle up, it’s the law.” Given that seatbelts dramatically increase your chances of walking away from a car accident, it certainly should be the law. Unfortunately, if you are a nine-year-old riding in the back seat of a car in Oklahoma, it isn’t. In fact, Oklahoma is the only state in the country where a child ages eight to 17 can legally ride without a seatbelt.
This glaring omission in state policy is the subject of an interim study led by state Sen. Carri Hicks. In 2017, 83 Oklahoma kids aged eight to 17 were seriously injured or killed while unrestrained in car accidents. Experts estimate about half of those deaths or injuries could have been prevented if the children were buckled up. In fact, according to AAA, riding in a vehicle without a seatbelt is a greater threat to child wellbeing than all forms of violence combined. With those terrible statistics in mind, the Oklahoma Institute for Child Advocacy supports quickly updating the current law to require all children to wear seatbelts.
OICA is just getting started with this issue, and we encourage you to join the coalition of advocate organizations involved with this topic. “All Kids Buckled Up” is the official name of the coalition advocating for this policy change, and our collaborative partners are holding a media conference at 3 p.m. Sept. 26 on the south side of the Capitol steps. If you are a concerned parent or citizen, please consider attending. The larger the crowd, the better. Some of our speakers will include high school student leaders as well as an eight-year-old who will speak about why they believe this law is necessary. And, of course, there’ll be several of us older folks participating.
Whether you can attend or not, please contact your legislators about supporting a change to our current law. In the months to come, “All Kids Buckled Up” will send out specific information on visiting with legislators to advocates, but there is no reason to delay. Feel free to contact your own state senator and representative as soon as you can. They are very responsive to requests for meetings or call from voters in their districts.
In the meantime, Choctaw-Nicoma Park Public Schools has spent the month of September releasing some great information on automotive and pedestrian safety that we are happy to share here. Some of their tips include:
• Buckle your kids up for every trip. All children under age two must be rear-facing, all children up to age four must be in a harnessed car seat and all children up to age eight must be in a booster seat, unless they are over 4 feet, 9 inches.
• Keep your child in the back seat at least through age 12. Remember, even passengers in the back seat should be buckled in to reduce the risk of injury in a crash.
• Never leave children unattended in cars.
• Teach kids at an early age to look left, right and left again before crossing the street. Then remind them to continue looking until safely across.
• Teach kids to put phones, headphones and devices down when crossing the street.
• It’s always best to walk on sidewalks or paths and cross at street corners, using traffic signals and crosswalks.
• Children need to cross the street with an adult.
• Be a good role model. Set a good example by putting down your phone and devices when walking around cars.
Thank you in advance to taking action to protect our kids. Together, we can correct this law and help save lives!