The Virgin Islands Office of Highway certified 10 technicians for completing its Child Passenger Safety Training program.
Cars filled the parking space at the Police Training Academy in Subbase at around noon Friday, and training participants could be seen adjusting car seats, placing them in cars, or placing children in them to test for safety.
The weeklong training program is funded by the National Highway and Transportation Safety Administration and conducted by the local Office of Highway Safety. For an entire week, participants experienced a combination of classroom instruction and hands-on practice on the proper use of vehicular restraints.
“We teach about car restraints, car and occupant restraints in and around the car,” explained Leslie Dickinson, territorial occupant protection coordinator at the Virgin islands Office of Highway. “We emphasize the importance of car and booster seats, airbags, and seatbelt safety, so that people can become more educated.”
Most participants in the Child Passenger Safety Training come from government agencies or departments charged with safety or emergency response. Friday’s commencement included representatives from Fire Services, Emergency Management Services and St. Thomas Rescue. There were also volunteers, according to Dickinson, who took time off from work to participate in the program.
While financial constraints prevented the Office of Highway from conducting these trainings in the last three years, Dickinson said they do aim to conduct at least one training every year in October, right after September’s Child Passenger Safety Week.
Concern for passenger safety has risen in the last few years, according to Dickinson.
“Since 2006, we have been doing a national seatbelt survey every year, and our numbers have been dropping,” said Dickinson. “We have seen, based on statistics, that a lot deaths have resulted from people not using their seat belts, using them improperly, or not being really aware of the importance and proper use of car and booster seats.”
Car seats are an example of easily misused vehicular restraint, and have been a major concern for NHTSA. The NHTSA’s Child Restraint Use Survey indicates the practice of securing car seats in place using seat belts, which is prone to loosening or incorrect routing, has not been fully eliminated. Some car models have not yet caught up with a Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard, which requires cars to have an upper tether or anchor in place for car seats.
To make child safety restraints more accessible, the Office of Highway is launching its “loaner program” on all three islands. The loaner program would provide car seats and booster seats to people who only need them for short periods.
“During the summer, for example, grandparents have their grandkids for an extended period,” Dickinson explained, “but they don’t need a car seat for an entire year, they just need it for a little while, so we encourage them to come and participate in the loaner program.”
For tourists traveling with small children and renting cars while on island, Highway could even drop off the car seats or booster seats at the airport.
According to Dickinson, their concern is focused more on safety than enforcement.
“We are trying to do everything we can to educate people, not so much on the enforcement side,” she said. “We enforce, but what we really try to do is educate people on the importance of vehicular restraints.”