Originally published May 06, 2013
Bonnie Brantley knew one thing for sure: people in Toombs County needed to learn more about road safety. Previous surveys conducted in the county showed just one-third of children traveled safely in car seats and only about 40 percent of drivers and passengers wore seat belts. In her years of inspecting car seats, Brantley has seen misuse of all kinds, from secondhand, faulty equipment to a parent using a butter knife to anchor a car seat.
"When it comes to traffic safety, the education level here is very low," said Brantley, the Safe Kids Coordinator at Meadows Regional Medical Center in Vidalia. "We needed help getting the information out."
Brantley and her colleagues at the Georgia Department of Public Health's (DPH) Rural Roads Initiative turned to the Governor's Office of Highway Safety (GOHS) for help. The office brought together law enforcement officials and highway safety educators, who joined forces with the Rural Roads Initiative and local volunteers to host the Toombs County Occupant Safety Caravan April 8-10. During those three days, the group traveled the area educating all kinds of drivers and passengers about staying safe on the road.
"The safety caravan is really important for the rural areas where we don't have a lot of resources," Brantley said. "When you get 30 people from all over the state coming to help you, it makes such a difference."
Georgia State Patrol officers conducted road checks on two of the county's major roads, spotting problems from seat belts and child safety seats to DUIs and expired licenses. The caravan also set up shop in a Wal-Mart parking lot one afternoon to check child safety seats and instruct parents and caregivers on the right way to install them. Workers checked nearly 120 seats and handed out 99 new seats to parents whose seats were faulty or outdated.
"Those 120 kids are now riding safer on the roads in our county. That's just wonderful," Brantley said.
The response was so overwhelming that 26 people have stopped by her office in the weeks since the event so she can check their children's seats or get them new ones, Brantley said.
Caravan instructors also visited six day care centers, nurses at local hospitals and school bus drivers to ensure they know how to properly install child safety seats and buckle in children, information instructors hope will be passed on to parents.
The caravan also armed children with knowledge about keeping themselves safe in cars. Instructors taught 560 students at J.D. Dickerson Primary and Robert Toombs elementary schools about the safe way to ride in a booster seat and the importance of buckling up.
High school students were targeted as well. Educators took a truck roll-over simulator to Montgomery County High School, Vidalia Comprehensive High School and Robert Toombs Christian Academy to give students an idea of what happens to car occupants who don't wear seat belts. More than 1,000 students at the schools also learned about the dangers of distracted driving. According to surveys conducted by the Rural Roads Initiative, those lessons have already made a difference. Before the caravan's visit, just 53 percent of students at Vidalia Comprehensive High School reported using seat belts. After their presentations, 84 percent of students said they wore their seat belts on the road.
GOHS Director Harris Blackwood said the three-day event was a success because of the collective effort of state and local public health officials and safety officials and volunteers.
"The Toombs County Caravan is an example of state agencies working together to address a community need. We were cordially welcomed by the people of that region and hopefully, we left it a much safer place for the children who live there," Blackwood said.