Starting in January, drivers pulled over with a child passenger who is not secured in a car seat will have the option of foregoing a fine and instead participating in a diversion program. The program will provide a free child car seat to the driver, professionally installed by the trained health department staff. The offender will also have to watch an educational video.
Paula Carden, director of the health department, said the optional class should be preferable to drivers over the $260 or so fine for not having child in a car seat. It’s also what the staff at the health department and law enforcement would rather see. Paying a fine, she said, doesn’t do much in the way of ensuring child safety.
“It’s not our goal to give an expensive ticket,” she said. “It’s a hardship to pay that much money, and the bottom line is they don’t have a car seat even if they’ve paid that money out.”
The expansion of the county’s program should also help to reduce an easy out offenders have after receiving a ticket for not having a car seat. They can generally get the fine waived if they appear in court demonstrating they have since gotten one — much like the pardon given for expired tags. The conventional wisdom is that simply making the driver present a car seat in court falls short of ensuring it’s properly installed in the vehicle.
Carden said local law enforcement routinely stops cars in which children are in car seats, and statistics show that about half of car seats, with their multitude of straps and anchor points, are not properly installed. A child adequately secured in a car seat is at a lesser risk for injury and has a greater chance for survival if they’re in an accident.
Without one, the consequences can be disastrous, Carden said.
“Have you ever passed a car and seen a kid not in a car seat?” Carden said. “My thought is ‘Oh gosh, what if they get in an accident? Where is that kid going to end up?’”
Jackson County has had a program for some time now to provide car seats and properly install them for interested residents. Last year, the county supplied and installed 40 car seats. In some years, the number has been as high as 200. Carden is hoping to add a few more to the rolls once the diversion program goes into place, and she has law enforcement and the courts on board.
Jackson County Sheriff’s Office Deputy Shannon Queen said the problem is much too prevalent on the roads and views the implementation of the program as a step in the right direction. Much like driving school is used for reckless drivers and speeders, Queen said the diversion program could help offenders correct their behavior.
The status quo is that many people just pay the ticket and don’t correct the problem, Queen said.
“We’re relying on a citation that costs a lot of money to put kids in car seats, and we’re not training the parents or guardians,” he said. “The hope is to keep it from recurring.”