As the holiday festivities approach, local public safety messages offer drivers safety tips. But this season, there’s a new safe driving message that evokes the holiday spirit of giving.
The Virgin Islands Office of Highway Safety is asking the community to help supply local families with child booster seats. Booster seats are the devices used to protect children ages 4-7 while riding in vehicles.
According to the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration, car accidents are a leading cause of death for children nationwide. VIPD Highway Safety Coordinator Denise Gomes says the booster seat donation drive began two weeks ago.
Gomes says there’s a shortage of booster seats in the territory. “Since the pandemic (and) supply chain interruptions, our local retailers — KMart and other stores — don’t have any stock,” she said. “Four- to seven-year-olds are being transported unsafely without booster seats.”
The more familiar child safety seats are more readily available, the coordinator said. By law, infants transported from local hospitals from the delivery ward must be carried in a car seat. But Gomes said parents and guardians become less safety conscious as the baby grows out of their car seat.
“Our goal is (to get) about 700 seats per district,” Gomes said, to assist local families. The last time Highway Safety held a booster seat giveaway in April, they ran out, she said.
With help from generous donors, the division hopes to hold another giveaway in February. “We do distribute seats when we have them,” Gomes said.
Car safety rules also apply to visiting families. One vacation rental business owner catering to children on St. John keeps booster seats in inventory. The business owner, who asked not to be named, said all of their boosters have already been booked for the Christmas holiday. That leaves families having one more item to carry with them as they fly or sail to the V.I.
So far, she said, one donor has contributed ten booster seats. Those who want to join the effort are encouraged to order through stateside vendors and have the items shipped to the territory.
Gomes stressed that donated items must be new. “We cannot take used booster seats for liability reasons. We do ask that they buy new seats,” she said.
Those who wish to support the booster seat donor drive can drop off their items on St. Croix in Frederiksted, next to the Boys and Girls Club. On St. Thomas, VIPD is partnering with the Department of Education to arrange a donation site, Gomes said.