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Editorial: Too many parents fail to keep kids safe in vehicles

Without knowing it, many parents are putting their children at risk when they pull out of their driveway. The children aren't in safety seats or properly secured in the vehicle.

It's Child Passenger Safety Week through September 21, an opportune time for parents to review their child passenger safety procedures. There is a lot of room for improvement. In Minnesota, three out of four child restraints are used incorrectly; meaning children are riding in the wrong restraint or it is not properly secured.

Although booster seats are the law in Minnesota, crash data reveals many parents are not using the safety seats that help seat belts fit children correctly and safely, according to the Minnesota Department of Public Safety (DPS) Office of Traffic Safety.

Children must ride in a booster seat upon outgrowing a forward-facing harnessed restraint. It is safest for children to ride in a booster until they are 4-feet, 9-inches, or at least age 8.

Parents, and anyone else that travels with young children, should be doing a better job to keep their young passengers safe.

A DPS survey a couple of years ago showed that only 64 percent of parents/caregivers place children in booster seats. The survey also showed that if the driver wasn't belted, then only 27 percent of the children were in a booster.

The stakes are all too real. The DPS provided the following booster seat facts for children, ages 4 to 7, who were involved in crashes from 2008 to 2012:

--10 children killed and only two were properly restrained.

--Of the 2,121 children injured, fewer than half (1,005) were properly restrained in booster seats.

--Of the 6,170 children in a booster and in a crash, 84 percent were not injured.

"Traffic crashes are the leading killer of Minnesota children and one reason for this is parents are rushing children into riding in just a seat belt before the child is tall enough," said Heather Darby, DPS Office of Traffic Safety child passenger safety program coordinator. "Booster seats are critical to prevent improperly fitting seat belts, which can result in serious and fatal injuries."

Important reminders for parents: Seat belts must fit properly. The shoulder strap must be over the shoulder and chest, the lap belt over the hips, not the abdomen. Seat belts should never cut across the neck, and never place the shoulder strap under an arm or behind the back.

If you're wondering how old children should be to ride in the front seat, the DPS says that it is safest for children to ride in the back until they are 13.

Parents and caregivers are encouraged to visit for instructional videos for installing and using various car seats, and to find a local car seat check location. In Alexandria, parents can call Officer Jim Gripne at (320) 759-3706 to check the installation of car seats or if they have questions about child passenger safety. The police department and public health are also planning a car seat check event sometime this fall. More information will be published soon.