Operation Kids

Operation Kids is a new education and enforcement program developed by the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) in collaboration with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) that explores these questions and more.

Booster Seats: Ford's Boost America! campaign
Washington Regional Child Passenger Safety Team
Child Passenger Safety & The Role of Law Enforcement
What Does Integrating Child Safety Seat Enforcement Mean?
What Does Loose Kids Mean?
Can't someone else take care of this problem?
Operation Kids targets the 3 Es of traffic safety
What do we know?
Do they work?
Why are we involved in education?
Operation Kids Targets the Incorrect Use of Safety Seats
What Should I do?

Operation Kids
Law Enforcement Child Passenger Safety Program

The child safety seat issue is not about the technical aspects of seats, but about children. Children who are passengers in motor vehicles, children who need and deserve protection in the event of a crash, and children who are riding with an adult who is not aware of the dangers of a crash. Police officers carry important responsibilities in today's society. The public has high expectations for crime prevention as well as safety on the roadway. The citizens we serve expect us to respond to a variety of problems swiftly, with knowledge and authority.

The basic mission of a police department is to protect life and property. That's what we focus our attention on each and every day. However, Operation Kids focuses on a specific task, that of saving lives of young and innocent children, which will be the effect of making enforcement of child passenger laws a priority during our daily routines. When you stop a vehicle for a child passenger safety violation, whether you issue a hard copy citation, a written warning, or use the stop as a chance to educate the parent, you will be making a difference, and, you will be stressing the importance of properly buckling up kids.

Operation Kids mission:

To reduce the unnecessary and preventable motor vehicles injuries and fatalities to infants and children through increased education, enforcement, and compliance with existing Child Passenger Safety statutes.

Child Passenger Safety & Role of Law Enforcement

Increasing the correct use of child safety seats involves a variety of groups and individuals. The load is not resting entirely on law enforcement's shoulders. Child passenger safety is a dynamic and ever-changing field, and is an area that we'll never be able to declare victory in and move on to the next challenge.

There are a couple of primary reasons for this. For one, the target audience that needs good, current child safety seat information is continually challenging. The parents that need information about infant seats and how to use them correctly today is not the same group we were talking to last year. The parents we talked to last year about infant seats are now struggling to properly restrain a toddler.

Secondly, there are environmental issues such as new technology and product recalls. New technology covers the variety of improved child safety seat designs introduced to the marketplace on a regular basis. The restraint systems are constantly being improved to make them safer for their occupants in a crash and easier for parents to install and use. There are other technology factors that are associated with vehicle design and safety improvement that we have to stay abreast of. The most recent example of this is the addition of passenger-side air bags, which make the use of a rear-facing infant seat dangerous in the front seat of a vehicle so equipped. The variety of safety belt systems in vehicles today is confusing, and again, ever changing, with a direct effect on the proper and safe installation of a child safety seat.

Product recalls are undertaken by the manufacturer to correct problems that may not have been discovered during initial design and testing. If parents have not registered their seat with the manufacturer, they will not be notified of a problem with the seat. We can work in a variety of ways to inform the public about recalls to help correct defects.

There are other environmental factors that affect child passenger safety programs. One of the largest problems for some departments is to maintain a balance betwen the myriad of enforcement issues that compete for attention. There may be great wailing and gnashing of teeth from the public about street corner sales or increasing rates of burglary. Traffic safety sometimes takes a back seat to these issues. Even in agencies where the importance of maintaining traffic safety is stressed, child passenger safety can be overlooked when competing with topics such as impaired driving.

While we are focusing primarily on child safety seats (more technically called "child restraints") that are used for younger children, Operation Kids also discusses safety belt use for older children. These topics go hand in hand, especially because many children small enough to benefit from child restraints are placed in safety belts designed for the older child and adults. Also, parents need accurate information on the transition from child restraints to belts. Furthermore, injury prevention is a family issue. Proper use of safety belts by older members helps assure the safety of all, particularly because a significant proportion of injuries (about 20% in one study) are inflicted by one passenger being hurled into another. Even more important is ensuring the safety of parents as well as children. No one wants to arrive at a crash scene to find parents killed or seriously injured, leaving a child survivor in a safety seat. Yet, some adults seem to take risks themselves despite buckling up their children.

What Does Integrating Child Safety Seat Enforcement Mean?

This five-dollar phrase means nothing more than this: as you go about your daily patrol routine, in addition to looking for open doors, suspicious subjects, stolen cars, also take notice of loose kids. Increasing child passenger safety can be accomplished without detracting from any other duties or services an officer may be called upon to perform. We do not need specialized squads and overtime details to save kids lives. You can do it by being aware of the magnitude of the problem, by knowing how effective your actions can be, and by integrating child safety seat & seat belt enforcement into your daily patrol routine.

We're talking about a casual glance at the child safety seat while you're on a traffic stop. A glance that can tell you if the harness is securing the child, if the car's seat belt is holding the child safety seat and if the seat is facing the right direction for that age and size of child.

What Does Loose Kids Mean?

We're talking about the three-year-old that stood on the back seat last week and waved at you, as his child safety seat sat next to him unused. We're talking about the eight-month-old baby that you saw being held in his mother's lap. We're talking about the two-year-old toddler you saw playing happily in the front seat, with no child safety seat in sight.

Can't Someone Else Take Care of This Problem?

Does that mean that we do nothing? There is no one else to do the job. Traffic safety and the enforcement of traffic laws are up to us. It is our responsibility to ensure safety on the roadways for drivers and their passengers.

Operation Kids Targets the 3 Es of Traffic Safety

The 3 Es of Traffic Safety are Engineering, Education, and Enforcement. Let's take a moment and look at the police role in these three areas.

Law Enforcement Has No Role to Play in Engineering?

FALSE: Child safety seats are designed, tested, and certified by the manufacturers to meet the requirements of Federal Motor Vehicle Standard 213. This standard specifies certain performance criteria the seats must meet. Seats are routinely and randomly tested by engineers at the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to verify they do indeed meet those standards.

These tests are conducted in a variety of crash scenarios using instrumented anthropomorphic dummies. However, the real test of the performance of a child safety seat takes place in the field, with a real infant or toddler involved in a real crash. That's where law enforcement comes in. We are the ones who respond to the scene, we see the results of the real crash, and we can verify for the engineers and designers that the child safety seat did or did not perform as designed.

The information you collect at a crash scene really does go to good use. Reports are also used by highway engineers to pinpoint problem intersections or sections of roadway. In addition, your reports are used for news stories on crashes by the newspapers and other media, stories that affect the attitude of the public about whether child safety seats actually work. Many departments do an outstanding job of reporting seat belt use in a crash. This is also an opportunity to do some subtle public information work about the effectiveness of occupant protection systems. You know that safety belts and child safety seats work because you see the trauma caused by crashes first hand. The general public doesn't have that opportunity and needs the information you possess in order to make an informed decision. It is critical that factual information be reported about restraint use in a crash and child safety seat use in particular.

A good example of how important the identification of child seat misuse is the case investigated by a Montgomery County, Maryland, police officer. A three-year-old child was killed in a head-on collision because her child safety seat was not properly secured in the vehicle. The family did not understand why the seat failed to protect the child until the officer pointed out the need for a special buckle that was listed in the vehicle owner's manual. As a result of the information provided by the officer, the family members have become advocates to help inform other parents of the need to use child seats correctly. Our role, then, is to note any failures we may observe and report them so corrective measures can be taken.

Police Educate People With a Pen and Ticket Book?

TRUE: Enforcement is a form of education that alters behavior.

The second E, Education, involves a very large and diverse group of people and organizations. These folks are representatives of police agencies, coalitions, health departments, transportation departments, media outlets, and commercial entities. We call them advocates, and they are critically important to increasing correct usage. Law enforcement agencies across the country have been active for years in education. Police involvement has taken many forms including training for officers, seminars for new parents and other caregivers, informational displays at fairs and festivals, media interviews on the topic, and public service announcements reminding motorists to restrain their kids.

As a Law Enforcement Officer, Nothing You Can Do Has as Much Potential to Save Lives and Prevent Injury for Young Children Than Actively And Aggressively Enforcing Child Passenger Safety Laws?

TRUE. Studies have shown repeatedly that public information campaigns are only as effective as the enforcement that police agencies provide. Active enforcement sends a very real message to the public that child safety seats are important and effective in the view of public safety professionals who know and see the devastation of crashes.

The Third E, Enforcement, is where law enforcement stands alone. Engineering and education involved a great many folks working with us, hand in hand, toward a common goal. To this point, we have designed effective seats and explained to the public why they should be used and how to use them correctly.

Now we come to making it happen. Most parents have responded to our efforts to buckle their kids correctly, which usage surveys have confirmed. But there remains a segment of the population that will respond only to active and aggressive enforcement. Some of these have not been reached by the educational efforts. Still others are simply forgetful or do not consider the chances of being involved in a serious crash worthy of the effort. Enforcement is the key.

What Do We Know??

We know that kids are dying on our streets and highways and that motor vehicle crashes remain the leading cause of death for children. The most recent statistics show 600 to 700 children die in motor vehicle crashes each year. The statistics also tell us that 75,000 children are injured each year in crashes. Certainly, the majority recover from those injuries and lead a normal life. Some don't.

Do They Work?

NHTSA conducted an evaluation of the effectiveness of child safety seats in crashes and found, with correct use, they are:

  • 71 % effective in preventing fatalities
  • 67% effective in reducing the need for hospitalization
  • 50% effective in preventing even minor injuries

Why Are We Involved in Education?

To increase correct use of child safety seats, the active support of public safety professionals is critical. As you can see from the charts, police officers have the respect of both adults and children. They will listen to what you have to say to help keep their children safe, so you need some good information to give them.

Operation Kids Targets the Incorrect Use of Safety Seats.

We know that if children were restrained in a certified, correctly used child safety seat, the death toll would be greatly reduced. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) tells us that more than 500 deaths and 80,000 injuries could have been prevented each year if child safety seats were correctly used by all kids. We know that child safety seats are working and saving lives every day. A NHTSA study of police reports from one recent year showed that 238 children under the age of five were saved by using child safety seats that year.

Many national and local surveys show that more than half of the seats checked are incorrectly installed; 80% nationally, and in some cases over 90%, of the seats checked are incorrect.

"This staggering number of incorrectly used safety seats puts all of us on notice", said Capt. Robert Beach, Fairfax County, Virginia, Police Department's Traffic Division Commander. " All officers should take an active role in this issue and when we see a child in a vehicle ask the right questions and take the appropriate enforcement action."

The questions Captain Beach is referring to are these:

  • What can I see?
  • What does that mean?
  • Why is that important?
  • What should I do?

These questions should be asked at every traffic stop made by an officer. How do these four questions apply to child safety seats? When we look at a child restraint system, we need to ask ourselves several things and understand what they mean, why they are important, and what corrective action can or should be taken.