ALBANY -- There are a number of incidents that turn deadly because of the poor installment of car seats. In light of that, health officials in Southwest Georgia have been seeking to do something about it.
Financially-eligible families can get free child passenger safety seats from the Dougherty County Health Department, thanks to a mini-grant from the Injury Prevention Program of the Georgia Department of Community Health Division of Emergency Preparedness.
"There were a number of deaths and injuries that were occurring and they saw a need," said Artiszell Johnson, child passenger safety technician at the health department.
Dougherty is one of 128 counties participating in the mini-grant program. At least 165 children in Georgia have been saved from death or serious injury due to car seats and education received through the program since 2002, officials with the DCH say.
Every dollar spent on a car seat saves $46, officials say. This translates into savings of more than $54 million for the state.
"As a former emergency physician, I've seen the devastating toll of car crashes on families," said Dr. Patrick O'Neal, director of the Georgia Department of Community Health's Division of Emergency Preparedness and Response. "Injury prevention programs like the Car Seat Mini-Grant are key to keeping kids out of the hospital after a crash."
The original grant for the Dougherty County program was awarded in December 2008. The most recent grant was awarded late last year. Financially-eligible families are defined as those that are Women, Infants and Children (WIC) eligible, PeachCare for Kids eligible or Medicaid eligible.
Through the mini-grant, Dougherty County received an initial award of approximately $2,000 in car seats and educational materials. In addition, it offers technical support, valued at approximately $600, and more car seats throughout the grant year.
As part of the program, the health department also offers classes on proper installment and performs car seat inspections to help ensure children receive full protection.
Officials say car seats offer the best protection for children in the event of a wreck, and they are most effective when installed and used correctly.
"We want people to be educated on how to install seats," Johnson said. "When the parents come and we see how they install seats, it's unbelievable. It's more harmful for a child to be in the seat wrong than not being in it at all."
It is estimated that three out of every four car seats are used improperly.
Car seats reduce fatal injuries in passenger cars by 71 percent among infants and by 54 percent among children ages 1 to 4 years, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
The grant specifies that families must reside in Dougherty County to be eligible. Classes are held on the last Wednesday of each month for 90 minutes to two hours. There are openings for five parents in each class.
The mini-grant program is funded through the Governor's Office of Highway Safety. Nine counties within the Southwest Public Health District are taking part in the program.
For more information about the car seat program, call (229) 430-6284.