Occupant Protection

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What is Occupant Protection?

Seat belts save lives. The Occupant Protection Program at the Virgin Islands Office of Highway Safety plans and develops safety programs designed to reduce the risk of injuries and fatalities for vehicle occupants—drivers and their passengers. These programs promote and educate on the use of

  • seat belts,

  • child car seats, and

  • automatic occupant protection systems (e.g., air bags)

Each one of us plays a role in ensuring that we reduce the risk of injuries for ourselves and for others.  Buckle up, VI!

Occupant Protection and the Law

Primary Seat Belt Law

The U.S. Virgin Islands is a primary seat belt law jurisdiction. This means that a law enforcement officer can pull a driver over and issue a tickets solely for lack of seat belt compliance.  In a secondary seat belt jurisdiction, the officer would need another traffic violation (i.e. not stopping at a stop sign, failing to signal, etc.) as a cause for stopping a motorist.

The laws of the U.S. Virgin Islands prioritize seat belt compliance because according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), wearing a seat belt is a safety strategy proven to reduce the severity of injuries sustain during a crash; this is a life-saving strategy. Do your part to preserve life. Wear your seat belt every time you ride. It’s the law!

 

References in the VI Code

Chapter 20 of the VI Code provides the laws that protects motorists and their passengers.  The Chapter also dictates restraint requirements for children under the age of 14. The section outlines the following:

  • Passengers up to one-year old or 20 pounds must sit in an appropriate rear-facing car seat in the back seat of the car

  • Passengers ages one to five, or up to 40 pounds must sit in an appropriate forward-facing car seat in the back seat of the car

  • Passengers 40-80 pounds, up to eight years of age or less than 4’9” tall, must sit in an appropriate booster seat in the back seat of the car

  • Passengers under fourteen years of age must sit in the back seat of the car and must use the car’s seat belt. 

  • Occupants, fourteen years of age or more must wear a seatbelt in a car, whether sitting in the front or rear of the car. 

Of course, there are citations and costly fines involved for drivers who do not comply with these laws. But more importantly, there are life-threatening consequences for unsecured passengers involved in a crash. 

Crashes are never planned.  Even the best drivers can be involved in a crash. It is important that each occupant is restrained and prepared for the worse.  In life, we rarely get second chances. Do the right thing for your safety and for the safety of the passengers in your care.  Buckle Up, VI! Every trip, Everyone. Every time!

 
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Why Secure Children in Car Seats?

Seat belts are designed to secure adult passengers. A seat belt should cross over the passenger’s shoulder, then the chest plate (sternum) and finally across the hips. Because a child’s body is much smaller, the seat belt will cross the child’s neck and stomach. In the event of a crash, the belt will exert pressure on vital organs or fail to secure the child. In either scenario, the outcomes could cause severe injuries or result in death. 

Car seats are designed so that the straps secure the child and contact the child’s body is a safe manner. Whenever you’re on the road, make sure children are always properly buckled in the back seat in a car seat, booster seat, or seat belt, whichever is appropriate for their weight, height, and age.

 

CPS Technicians

Child Safety Passenger (CPS) Technicians undergo certificate training to become experts in providing car seat fitting advice and installation assistance to motorists with children.  They are able to tell motorists which stage seat is appropriate the child based on the child’s age, weight and size.  They can also ensure that the car seat is safely installed and instruct motorists on correct installation methods.

The VI Office of Highway Safety plans to train key personnel in the community to include police officers, fire fighters, medical personnel, personnel of the Head Start program, Department of Housing, and other community members with regular contact with families of young children. 

CPS Fitting Stations

The trained Child Safety Passenger (CPS) Technicians will provide car seat advice and installation assistance at their places of work and throughout the community.  This network of experts placed strategically throughout the community, provide accessible support for motorists with children. 

A listing of CPS Fitting Stations will be provided following completion of certification training.

Car Seat Loaner Program

As a part of the VIOHS’s commitment to reduce injuries and fatalities associated with children involved in motor vehicle crashes, the Occupant Protection program sponsors a car seat loaner program. This initiative provides loaner seats to families in need of a car seat. By increasing access to appropriate safety seats in our community, the division ensures that children have the necessary equipment to remain safe as they traverse territorial roads. 

For more information about the car seat loaner program, please contact the Office of Highway Safety at 340-772-3025 or email denise.gomes@vipd.vi.gov.

Choosing the Right Seat - Car Seat Fitting

A car seat only works if it fits properly and is used correctly.  Make sure children are properly buckled in a car seat, booster seat, or seat belt – whichever is appropriate for their weight, height, and age.

  • Use a rear-facing car seat from birth, for as long as possible (see the guidance provided on your seat).​

    • Check the car seat manual and labels on the car seat for weight and height limits.

    • For the best possible protection, infants and toddlers should be buckled in a rear-facing car seat, in the back seat, until they reach the maximum weight and height limits of their car seat.

  • After outgrowing the rear-facing car seat, use a forward-facing car seat until at least age 5.

    • When children outgrow their rear-facing car seats, they should be buckled in a forward-facing car seat, in the back seat, until they reach the upper weight or height limit of their car seat.

    • Check the car seat manual and labels on the car seat for weight and height limits.

Child Passenger Safety (CPS)

 
  • After outgrowing the forward-facing car seat, use a booster seat until seat belts fit properly.

    • Once children outgrow their forward-facing car seat, they should be buckled in a belt-positioning booster seat, in the back seat, until seat belts fit properly. Seat belts fit properly when the lap belt lays across the upper thighs (not the stomach) and the shoulder belt lays across the chest (not the neck).

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  • After outgrowing the forward-facing car seat, use a booster seat until seat belts fit properly.

    • Once children outgrow their forward-facing car seat, they should be buckled in a belt-positioning booster seat, in the back seat, until seat belts fit properly. Seat belts fit properly when the lap belt lays across the upper thighs (not the stomach) and the shoulder belt lays across the chest (not the neck).

  • Once seat belts fit properly without a booster seat, use a seat belt on every trip.

    • Children no longer need to use a booster seat once seat belts fit them properly. Seat belts fit properly when the lap belt lays across the upper thighs (not the stomach) and the shoulder belt lays across the chest (not the neck).

    • Proper seat belt fit usually occurs when children are about 4 feet 9 inches tall and aged 9–12 years. Seat belt fit can vary by vehicle so check fit in all vehicles. For the best possible protection, keep children properly buckled in the back seat.

Refer to the age, weight and height restrictions described on the car seat you have for guidance and to ensure that you are using the right seat for your child’s size. 

 

Taken from the Center from Disease Control:  https://www.cdc.gov/injury/features/child-passenger-safety/

 

When is my child ready to use a seat belt?

Your child will be in a rush to grow up and sit in the car like a big kid. However, don’t let them ride without their booster until you’re sure they’re big enough to use the seat belt without extra support. Your child might be ready to ride without a booster if:

  • They can sit up straight with their back flush against the rear of the vehicle seat

  • They can sit up straight and have their legs bend and hang naturally over the edge of the seat

  • The shoulder strap lays over their collarbone, rather than the face or neck, and

  • The lap belt is over their lap, not their belly.

Can your child sit naturally and comfortably for an extended period of time and satisfy all of these requirements? Many children will try to show you that they can stretch and sit up straight. However, on a long ride, they’ll probably end up slouching and transitioning into an unsafe position. Only let them ride without a booster if they can meet these requirements without trying.

Taken from:   https://www.kidsinthehouse.com/blogs/tedlorenz/why-you-shouldnt-let-your-toddler-use-a-regular-seat-belt#:~:text=The%20risk%20of%20serious%20injury,put%20their%20lives%20in%20danger.&text=Seat%20belts%20weren't%20always,safety%20feature%20in%20American%20vehicles.

Installing Car Seats

Car safety seats may be installed with either the vehicle’s seat belt or its LATCH (lower anchors and tethers for children) system. LATCH is an attachment system for car safety seats. Lower anchors can be used instead of the seat belt to install the seat, and many parents find them easier​ to use in some cars. The top tether improves safety provided by the seat and is important to use for all forward-facing seats, even those installed by using the vehicle seat belt. Although the seat belt and LATCH systems are equally safe, caregivers may prefer one system instead of the other. Keep in mind that only one system should be used unless the car safety seat and vehicle manufacturers say it is OK to use 2 systems at the same time.

Vehicles with the LATCH system have lower anchors located in the back seat, where the seat cushions meet. Tether anchors are located behind the seat, either on the panel behind the seat (in sedans) or on the back of the seat, ceiling, or floor (in most minivans, SUVs, hatchbacks,​ and pickup trucks). All forward-facing car safety seats have tethers or tether connectors that fasten to these anchors. See vehicle owner's manual for highest weight of child allowed to use top tether.

All lower anchors are rated for a maximum weight of 65 pounds (total weight includes car safety seat and child). Parents should check the car safety seat manufacturer's recommendations for maximum weight a child can be to use lower anchors. New car safety seats have the maximum weight printed on their label.

NOTE: Seat belts—If you install a car safety seat by using your vehicle's seat belt, you must make sure the seat belt locks to hold the seat tightly. In most newer cars, you can lock the seat belt by pulling it all the way out and then allowing it to retract to keep the seat belt tight around the car safety seat. In addition, many car safety seats have built-in lock-offs so you can lock the belt without having to lock the seat belt separately as well. Refer to the vehicle owner's manual for details about how your seat belt locks.

Middle of the back seat—The safest place to ride for all children younger than 13 years is the back seat. If possible, it may be best for the child to ride in the middle of the back seat. However, it is sometimes difficult to install a car safety seat tightly in the middle if the vehicle seat is narrow or uneven. Also, many vehicles do not have lower anchors for the middle seating position. It is safest to put the car safety seat in a position where you can install it tightly with either the lower anchor system or the seat belt; in some cases, this position may be on either side of the back seat rather than in the middle. A child passenger safety technician (CPST or CPS technician) can help you decide which place is best to install your child's car safety seat in your vehicle

Taken from Healthy Children: https://www.healthychildren.org/English/safety-prevention/on-the-go/Pages/Car-Safety-Seats-Information-for-Families.aspx

               

Registering the Car Seat

Last year, more than six million car seats were recalled. Was your car seat one of them? And if so, have you made the repair? Registering your car seat is the best way for parents to learn about a recall in the most timely and dependable manner – directly from the manufacturer. It’s easy to do.

  • Option 1: Register online with your car seat manufacturer or www.safercar.gov/parents. You’ll need the model number and date of manufacture found on the label on your car seat.

  • Option 2: Fill out and mail in the registration card that came with your car seat. It already includes your car seat’s information. No postage required.

To find out if your car seat has been recalled, visit the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s (NHTSA) website at https://www-odi.nhtsa.dot.gov/recalls/childseat.cfm, and enter your seat’s brand name, date of manufacture and model number. Find this information on a label on your car seat.

 

If your car seat has been recalled, act. Contact the manufacturer to learn about the recall. If you registered in advance, you will automatically receive the repair. If you didn’t register, you can request the repair from the manufacturer. Once you receive the repair, take the time to make it.

 

Taken from: https://www.safekids.org/blog/why-all-parents-need-register-their-car-seat-today#:~:text=Register%20Your%20Car%20Seat,It's%20easy%20to%20do.

Transporting Children with Special Needs

Finding the right car seat and using it correctly is difficult enough, especially when car seat guidelines seem to keep changing. If your child has certain medical conditions, they may need a specially made child restraint system.1 But in many cases, a conventional car seat will be suitable if it has certain features or characteristics (such as a higher rear-facing capacity or deeper recline, for example).

These medical conditions might include cerebral palsy, unrepaired giant omphalocele, some cases of osteogenesis imperfecta, and babies who must lie flat (either prone or supine) because they are unable to tolerate a semi-upright seating position. Sometimes children have issues with impulse control that lead them to unbuckle their harness straps.

If your child uses a wheelchair and is transported by car or bus in the wheelchair, you will need to make sure that the wheelchair has been crash-tested, is properly secured to the vehicle, and that the seat belt is being used properly to restrain the child in the wheelchair.

Transporting a Child Who Has Challenging Behavior

If your child has hyperactivity, autism, or emotional problems, the protection afforded by riding in the back seat in accordance with the guidelines for all children under 13 is still essential.2 That may mean that an adult has to ride in the back seat to monitor the child's behavior. For children who unbuckle their seat belt, use a five-point harness for as long as possible (look for a car seat or booster seat with higher height and weight limits). A harness is harder to undo than a seat belt.

The Button-Down Shirt Trick

For children who cannot undo small buttons, try The Car Seat Lady's button-down shirt trick for preventing the child from opening their harness without needing to use the chest clip lock. Have the child wear a shirt with small buttons. Leave it unbuttoned while you secure the child snugly in the harness. Then button the shirt over the straps to block the child's access.

Chest Clip Locks and Crotch Buckle Guards

For kids who still fit in their five-point harness (are under both the height and weight limits) but are opening the harness while the car is moving, use a chest clip lock and crotch buckle guard.

If the child is only able to undo the chest clip (they don't have the hand strength/dexterity to undo the crotch buckle), then only the chest clip lock is needed. Note that the chest clip lock and crotch buckle guard will not fit on every car seat.

Resources for Car Seats for Special Needs

Special car seats are usually available through a durable medical equipment provider using a prescription from a child's pediatrician or occupational therapist. If you need help finding a car seat for your child (whether a conventional seat or an adaptive one), a certified child passenger safety technician with extra training in seats for kids with special needs may provide assistance,1 in conjunction with your child's care team. 

Taken from:  https://www.verywellfamily.com/car-seats-for-kids-with-special-needs-2633330

 

 

 

Seat Belts

 

Safety belts, when worn by older children and adults, are the single most effective and proven strategy to save lives and reduce serious injuries in crashes. According to research presented by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), lap and shoulder combination safety belts, when used, reduce the risk of fatal injury to front-seat passenger car occupants by 45% and the risk of moderate to critical injury by 50% (NHTSA, 2011). It is estimated that nearly 14,955 lives of passenger vehicle occupants in the United States, age 5 and older, were saved by wearing seat belts in 2017.

The VI Office of Highway Safety’s occupant protection program, in collaboration with the VI Police Department and other community partners, involve enforcement, communication, and the education necessary to achieve changes in safety behaviors which encourage compliance with the law, decrease the risk of injuries resulting from crashes, and increase safety belt and child safety seat usage.

Why Buckle Up?

Buckling up is the single most effective thing you can do to protect yourself in a crash. Being buckled up during a crash helps keep you safe and secure inside your vehicle; being completely ejected from a vehicle is almost always deadly. 

Air bags are designed to work with seat belts, not replace them. If you don’t wear your seat belt, you could be thrown into a rapidly opening frontal air bag. Such force could injure or even kill you.

Guidelines to buckling up safely

  • The lap belt and shoulder belt are secured across the pelvis and rib cage, which are better able to withstand crash forces than other parts of your body.

  • Place the shoulder belt across the middle of your chest and away from your neck.

  • The lap belt rests across your hips, not your stomach.

  • NEVER put the shoulder belt behind your back or under an arm.


Be a good example. Always wear your safety belt and insist that all passengers do the same.

 

Taken from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration https://www.nhtsa.gov/risky-driving/seat-belts#issue-adults

 

Seat Belt Fitting Advice

​Seat belts are made for adults. Children should stay in a booster seat until adult seat belts fit correctly, typically when children reach about 4 feet 9 inches in height and are 8 to 12 years of age. Most children will not fit in a seat belt alone until 10 to 12 years of age. When children are old enough and large enough to use the vehicle seat belt alone, they should always use lap and shoulder seat belts for the best protection. All children younger than 14 years must ride in the back seat.​

Using a Seat Belt:

An adult seat belt fits correctly when:

  • The shoulder belt lies across the middle of the chest and shoulder, not the neck or throat.

  • The lap belt is low and snug across the upper thighs, not the belly.

  • Your child is tall enough to sit against the vehicle seat back with her knees bent over the edge of the seat without slouching and can comfortably stay in this position throughout the trip.​

Other points to keep in mind when using seat belts include:

  • Make sure your child does not tuck the shoulder belt under her arm or behind her back. This leaves the upper body unprotected and adds extra slack to the seat belt system, putting your child at risk of severe injury in a crash or with sudden braking.

  • Never allow anyone to “share” seat belts. All passengers must have their own car safety seats or seat belts.

 

Taken from:  https://www.healthychildren.org/English/safety-prevention/on-the-go/Pages/Seat-Belts-for-Older-Children-Adults.aspx

Caring for Straps

In the COVID-19 environment, like everything else in our environment, it is important to keep straps clean. However, cleaning straps with disinfectant products or bleach can compromise the integrity of the strap, causing straps to weaken and tear.  Clean straps – seat belts and on car seats - with warm soapy water, only. 

Wearing Seat Belts while Pregnant

If you’re pregnant, make sure you know how to position your seat and wear a seat belt to maximize your safety and the safety of your unborn child. Read NHTSA’s recommendations below or view the instructional diagram version of seat belt recommendations for pregnant drivers and passengers.

Note: the information below is provided through the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and is not intended to replace the advice of a physician. 

I’m Pregnant. Should I Wear a Seat Belt?

  • YES—doctors recommend it. Buckling up through all stages of your pregnancy is the single most effective action you can take to protect yourself and your unborn child in a crash.

  • NEVER drive or ride in a car without buckling up first!

What’s the Right Way to Wear My Seat Belt?

  • The shoulder belt away from your neck (but not off your shoulder) and across your chest (between your breasts), making sure to remove any slack from your seat belt with the lap belt secured below your belly so that it fits snugly across your hips and pelvic bone.

  • NEVER place the shoulder belt under your arm or behind your back.

  • NEVER place lap belt over or on top of your belly.

Should I Adjust My Seat?

  • YES—Adjust to a comfortable, upright position

  • Keep as much distance as possible between your belly and the steering wheel

  • Comfortably reach the steering wheel and pedals

  • To minimize the gap between your shoulder and the seat belt, avoid reclining your seat more than necessary.

  • Avoid letting your belly touch the steering wheel.

What if My Car or Truck Has Air Bags?

  • You still need to wear your seat belt properly.

  • Airbags are designed to work with seat belts, not replace them.

  • Without a seat belt, you could crash into the vehicle interior, other passengers, or be ejected from the vehicle.

My Car Has an ON-OFF Air Bag Disabling Switch. Should I turn it off?

  • NO—Doctors recommend that pregnant women wear seat belts and leave airbags turned on. Seat belts and air bags work together to provide the best protection for you and your unborn child.

What Should I Do if I am Involved in a Crash?

  • Seek immediate medical attention, even if you think you are not injured, regardless of whether you’re the driver or passenger.

Taken from https://www.nhtsa.gov/risky-driving/seat-belts

 

Annual Seat Belt Observational Survey Data

Each year, the Virgin Islands Office of Highway Safety conducts an occupant protection Observational Seat Belt Survey.  Data generated from this survey determines the territory’s compliance rates for drivers and their front seat passengers. This consultant-led survey records observations of vehicles in high-traffic and high-crash areas. To facilitate the study, surveyors are typically stationed where traffic halts, like at stop signs and traffic lights.

Survey data generated over the past five years tell a grim tale of the seatbelt safety culture established in the territory.  Due to hurricanes of 2017, the survey was not conducted.  Since 2018, the territory has recognized a downward trend for seat belt compliance (see graph below). The compliance rate of 71.1% in 2019 was followed by a lower 68.2% in 2020. When compared to a national compliance rate 0f 90.7% it becomes clear that this poor safety culture is in desperate need of improvement.    

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Other data generated from the 2020 Observational Survey exposed trends relative to island, vehicle types, gender, time of day, and day of the week.  According to the data, motorists on St. Croix were less likely to don a seat belt, while drivers in St. John exercised the highest compliance. Data recorded for front seat passengers told a similar tale.

When combining data outcomes for both drivers and passengers, male occupants were observed to have the lowest compliance rates (61.6%).  For vehicle occupants whose gender could not be determined, observers designated as “Unknown”. As a potentially related outcome to gender results, occupants of pickups (trucks) were also observed to have the lowest compliance rates (58.1%), compared to other vehicle types. Conversely, SUV drivers had the highest compliance rates (75.2%). 

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When data were disaggregated by time of day, interesting results were noted.  Despite time of day, usage rates ranged between 67.3% and 67.7%, a minor difference.  Data by the day of the week revealed a similar minor range from 64.6% on Sundays to 69.3% on Fridays, with an average daily rate of 67.7%. 

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Click It or Ticket Campaigns/Click It or Ticket – Day or Night

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No matter what type of vehicle you drive, one of the safest choices drivers and passengers can make is to buckle up. Click It or Ticket campaigns are designed to increase law enforcement visibility while enforcing seat belt laws during high traffic times of year.  These initiatives aim to enforce seat belt use to help keep drivers and passengers safer on our roads.

Always Remember to Buckle Up

In 2019, 9,466 unbuckled passenger vehicle occupants were killed in crashes in the United States. While that was a decrease from 2018, an early study for 2020 suggests that during the COVID-19 public health emergency, driving patterns and behaviors changed significantly. Of those drivers who remained on the roads, there was more risky behaviors, including people not wearing seat belts.

Taken from:  https://www.nhtsa.gov/campaign/click-it-or-ticket

FY 2021 VIOHS Occupation Protection Projects

Each year, the VI Office of Highway Safety’s Occupant Protection (OP) Program engages agencies, organizations, and businesses as partners who can help assist in community education, outreach, and enforcement. Through this village approach, the VIOHS can extend its reach in a collaborative effort to address and assist specific at-risk groups. During FY 2021, the identified at-risk groups for OP efforts include the following:

  • Motorists with young children

  • Teenage drivers

  • Nighttime drivers

To accomplish the goals established in the approved VI Highway Safety Plan, the OP program has embarked on the following projects, each designed to reduce crash-related risks for injuries and fatalities through preventative safety strategies:

 
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Getting Involved

What You Can Do with Your Family

Making the commitment to wear a seat belt correctly and consistently is an easy habit to form. Make wearing a seat belt a non-negotiable requirement for everyone who rides in your vehicle.  Be sure to wear your safety belt every trip, every day, and every time.  

Request a Presentation

The Occupant Protection Planner/Coordinator would like to share more information with you and your team.  Please contact the Office of Highway Safety for an informative, interactive presentation on seat belts or car safety seats today. You can call the office at 340-772-3025 or email the Coordinator directly at denise.gomes@vipd.vi.gov.  Together, we can spread this safety message and save lives!

Buckle Up, VI! Every trip. Everyone. Every time!