Fall 2003 Sentinel
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The Sentinel Making Utah a Safer Place for Kids

Select an article below, or download the entire issue:

§         It Only Takes Once

§         Preventing Brain Injury

§         The Right Seat at the Right Time

§         Lock and Unload

§         Save Your Brain – Wear a Helmet

§         Playground Pointers

§         Walk This Way



It Only Takes Once

A Teen Pays the Price for Not Buckling Up


James Melton was a very smart kid who took college-level computer courses at the tender age of 10.  He was also a conscientious teen who always wore his seat belt.  Except on May 22, 1998.


That evening, for a reason he may never remember, the then 13-year-old went unbuckled while riding in the back seat of an SUV driven by his friend’s mother.  When she lost control of the vehicle and hit a tree, James flew over the front seat and slammed into the dashboard.  The resulting head injury changed his, and his family’s, lives forever.


“James was in a coma for three months,” says his mother Diane.  “When he finally came to, he had to learn how to swallow, speak, eat and walk all over again.”


James’ injury remains devastating five years later.  “He’s 18 now, but still hasn’t fully recovered,” said Diane.  “He’s intelligent, but has short-term memory problems, and judgment problems that can be very frightening – even dangerous.”  Diane says James was at a relative’s house one evening when he decided to walk home – a 22-mile trip.  He slipped out unnoticed at 9:30 p.m. with sandals and no socks, and somehow made it home safely the next day.


“So much has changed for us since the crash,” says Diane.  “James is still my wonderful son, and I’m grateful he’s still with us.


“But he’s different, and he doesn’t understand why,” she said.  “He doesn’t understand why he must take special education classes.  Why he won’t ever have the kind of job he’d dreamed of at 13.


“You never know when tragedy will strike,” said Diane.  “But all it takes is one car ride without a seat belt, one bike ride without a helmet, and life as you know it is gone.  If all parents knew this, they would always buckle up, and insist that their children do the same.”


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Preventing Brain Injury


Every day a child in Utah suffers a devastating head injury.  Those who don’t die often survive with physical, mental and emotional problems.  And while many recover enough to lead normal lives, many more will never be the same.


Children suffer brain injuries for many reasons, but the most common are motor vehicle crashes, falls, sports and assault.  Most of these injuries can be prevented.


This issue of the SAFE KIDS Sentinel has lots of safety ideas for parents and caregivers, from using car seats and seat belts to locking away guns and wearing helmets.  We urge you to read it carefully.  For more information on brain injury in Utah, call 538-6864.


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The Right Seat at the Right Time


Can’t wait ‘til your toddler is big enough for a grown-up seat belt?  Well, don’t hold your breath.  Not only is he too small for a seat belt, your 5-, 6-, 7-, and 8-year-olds are, too.


Putting children in the right safety restraint at the right time is the most important thing you’ll do to keep them safe on the road, and at just $20-$50, they’re a very inexpensive life preserver.  Until children are 4’9” tall, they should not be placed in adult seat belts.  In a collision, they can either slide right out from under an adult belt, or suffer serious internal injuries if the belt cuts into the abdomen.


In Utah, motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for all children between the ages of 4 and 14.


Remember:  If children can’t be transported safely, they shouldn’t be transported at all.


You can help cut the death rate by following these 4 Steps for Kids:


1.     Use rear-facing infant seats for children from birth until they are at least a year old AND at least 20 lbs. (up to 30 lbs. if possible).

2.     Use forward-facing toddler seats for children from at least age 1 AND 20 lbs. to 40 lbs. (with harness).

3.     Use booster seats for children until they are 4’9” tall.  This critical step is often missed by parents who think their children fit just fine in an adult belt.  A booster seat lifts a child up so a safety belt can fit correctly.

4.     Once a child is tall enough for a seat belt, it should be used on every trip.  The safest place for children up to age 13 is in the back seat.  Parents should set the example by wearing their own seat belts.


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Lock and Unload

Keys to Family Firearm Safety


Do you know which of your neighbors has a loaded gun in the house?  Nearly one-third of all families with children keep at least one firearm at home.  And while they are meant for protection, guns often end up hurting the very families they are supposed to keep safe.  In Utah, from 1999 through 2001, an average of 10 children were shot each year.


As a parent or caregiver, protect your children by unloading and locking away your own guns, and ask your neighbors to do the same.


Never try to hide a gun hoping your child, or a neighbor’s child, won’t find it.  One study found that when a gun was in the home, 75 percent to 80 percent of first- and second-graders knew where it was kept.  And don’t think kids that age can’t use a gun.  Children as young as three are strong enough to pull a trigger.


If you’re not sure how to talk to your family about guns, here are some HOUSE RULES:


§         Don’t let children play video/computer games involving guns.  Kids under age eight can’t tell real guns from toys, and don’t understand that real ones cause real death.

§         Teach children that if they see a gun to stop, don’t touch it, leave the area and tell an adult.

§         Tell them to always assume that a gun is loaded.

§         Tell them never to point a firearm at another person or in the direction of anything.

§         Never throw, drop or otherwise mishandle a firearm.

§         Use locks on all firearms or keep them in a proper lock-box or safe.

§         Keep ammunition separate from guns.


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Save Your Brain – Wear a Helmet


Life is hard.


So are brick walls, cars, street signs, sidewalks and paved roads, especially when they meet up with your unprotected head.


The Utah Department of Health reports more Utah children are saving their brains by wearing helmets when bike riding, in-line skating and skateboarding.  Seven years ago, only 10 percent of grade-schoolers wore helmets; now 20 percent do.  But that leaves four out of five kids still at serious risk of getting hurt or dying in a crash.  Worse yet, only seven percent of junior and senior high school students wear helmets.


Head injury is the number one reason kids die when they crash their bikes.  The best way to keep them from dying is to make them wear a helmet and make sure the helmet fits properly.


Loose and tilted helmets provide much less protection in a crash.  Make sure the helmet is level and the strap is snug on your child’s head.


If you have trouble getting your children to wear helmets, here are some ideas:


1.     Set a good example by wearing your own helmet when you ride.

2.     Point out athletes who use helmets.  Baseball, football and hockey players wear them.

3.     Have your child pick out the helmet.

4.     Never let your child ride or skate without a helmet.

5.     Praise your child for wearing a helmet.

6.     Start the helmet habit early with your child’s first wheels.


Note:  Children under age 1 should NEVER be transported on bikes or in bike trailers.


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Playground Pointers


Play is a big part of a child’s development, and playgrounds are a great place for kids to improve their social and motor skills.  But playgrounds can also be dangerous.


The next time you take your little ones out to play, take a look around and remember these basic safety principles:


1.     Kids Need Watching – Forty percent of playground injuries happen when there is not adult watching the children.

2.     The Right Stuff – When buying equipment for a backyard playground, make sure it is appropriate for your child’s age and abilities.

3.     Look Out Below – While your lush lawn may seem safe for play, it’s a poor shock absorber in a fall.  Wood chips, shredded rubber and fine sand are all much better.  Make sure the material is at least 12 inches deep and that it extends a minimum of six feet in all directions around the equipment.  Check the fill regularly and make sure it doesn’t get compressed.  Do NOT use asphalt, concrete, grass or dirt under playground equipment.

4.     Check It Out – Look closely at the playground equipment.  Are there loose nuts, jagged edges or bolts that stick out?  Are there places where a child could become trapped?  Correct problems at home right away, and alert school and day care officials to problems with their equipment.


Finally, don’t send kids to the playground wearing necklaces, scarves, helmets or hoods with drawstrings; they could catch in the equipment and pose a choking risk.  For more helpful hints, visit www.safekids.org.


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Walk this Way

Travel Tips for Kids on Foot


Most parents think their kids are smart enough to stay safe in traffic.  But, children lack some basic judgment skills.  For example, young children can’t tell how fast a car is going, and they think that if they can see the driver, the driver can see them.


Every year more than 700 children die after being struck by cars.  Another 47,000 are hurt, and many of them suffer traumatic brain injuries that leave them paralyzed or with brain damage.


Walk with your child to school to see how safe the route is.  Are there sidewalks and crosswalks?  If not, is there a safer route?  Also, never allow children to play in or around parked cars.


Before your kids take another step, remind them of these basic rules of the road:


§         Always use sidewalks and crosswalks.

§         Watch for cars pulling out of driveways.

§         Stop on curbs and look both ways before crossing.

§         Don’t walk into a street from behind a parked car.

§         Make eye contact with the driver of an approaching car before entering a crosswalk.


Finally, remember the dangers of the driveway.  Already in 2003, four Utah children age 3 and under have been backed over and killed in their own yards and driveways.  Never back out without checking first, and make certain all children are safely inside the house before you leave.  Take special care in an SUV, as small children can be invisible below the rear bumper.


Taking a few extra seconds for safety may save your child’s life.


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