Toyota expands Buckle Up for Life child car seat safety effort

Toyota is celebrating the 10-year anniversary of its child car seat safety awareness campaign, Buckle Up for Life, by expanding it into new areas of the US through partnerships with children's hospitals.

NEW YORK: Toyota is celebrating the 10-year anniversary of its child car seat safety awareness campaign, Buckle Up for Life, by expanding it into new areas of the US through partnerships with children’s hospitals.

On Wednesday, three new businesses joined the national education program, including Boston Children’s Hospital; Stanford, California-based Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital; and Greenville, North Carolina-based Maynard Children’s Hospital at Vidant Medical Center.

With the additional businesses, the program is now present in 14 cities nationwide, which include Houston, Las Vegas, Philadelphia, Chicago, San Antonio, New York, Phoenix, Memphis, Los Angeles, and Orange County, California. The program’s network encompasses more than a dozen of the country’s leading children’s hospitals and has educated more than 17,000 people about the proper use of car seats and seat belts.

Although the program is focused on the cities where it is being implemented, the overall mission is to educate and empower parents and caregivers nationwide, said Kelly Fisher, manager of Toyota’s Buckle Up for Life program. The initiative was created in 2004 by Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center and Toyota.

"The sad fact is that three out of every four child car seats in the US are not properly installed, but unlike some scary and more daunting problems out in the world, there is a simple solution for this: a properly installed car seat," she said.

To spread the word across the country, the program is being promoted through its website, www.bucklupforlife.org, which was created earlier this year. The website is mobile optimized, and provides tools and videos in English and Spanish, including a step-by-step guide on how to install all types of car seats properly.

"We understand that parents everywhere are having trouble with children’s car seats, so until our program comes to your city, we are giving parents the resources they need to help them right now through our website," said Fisher. "We will continue to push the website by adding quizzes, lists, and new copy and content to engage parents and get them excited."

On Wednesday, Buckle Up for Life will host a live Google+ Hangout at 12 pm EST to discuss child passenger safety. Experts on the panel will include Rep. Grace Meng (D-NY), founder and co-chair of the Kids’ Safety Caucus, the first bipartisan coalition in the House that promotes child-safety issues; Dr. Victor Garcia, the founding director of trauma services at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center and visionary behind Buckle Up for Life; and Jennifer Pelky, vehicle safety engineer at Toyota Motor Engineering and Manufacturing North America.

"We are answering parents’ and caregivers’ questions pulled in from Twitter and Google Plus in real-time," said Fisher. "It will also be recorded so people can go back and review it online later."

Buckle Up for Life also released a public service announcement in video and radio format on Wednesday to raise awareness of the project.

"I have never met a parent who can’t describe how frustrated they have been trying to properly install a car seat in their vehicle, so we wanted to use humor with the PSA video to welcome them and hopefully inspire them to share the video with other parents, as well," said Fisher. "We don’t want to judge parents or lecture them; we want to show them we have been through the same thing."

Toyota’s sponsorship, which amounts to $6 million over three years, has provided funding for more than 40,000 car seats for families in need, she added.

In community organizations that have offered the program, on average, the rate of children in car seats increased from 31% to 51%; the number of children unrestrained in cars decreased from 28% to 7%; and the use of seat belts for adults has increased from 71% to 86%, according to a release.

Buckle Up for Life is supported by RLM Finsbury, which is aiding the program with earned media. Home Front Communications handles the program’s website, PSA, and social media channels. RLM Finsbury has been working with the program since 2011, and Home Front has been onboard since last summer, Fisher said.

"[Toyota] believes education about car safety is critically important and the greatest safety feature a car can have is an educated driver," said Fisher.

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