NMSU public health graduate student is striving to keep children safe

Parents of children struggle with the challenges of child safety seats. Whether it’s newborns in an infant carrier or small children in booster seats, installing and maintaining the correct type of seat can be difficult. According to Safer New Mexico Now, an estimated three out of every four child safety seats are used incorrectly.

 A group of men, women and children pose for a photo while standing.

George Richards (back row, second from right) is a New Mexico State University master’s in public health student who is taking his research project into the real world. He works with Safer New Mexico on child passenger safety events. Every month at Sisbarro Buick/GMC, fitting stations are available for the public to have their child safety seats evaluated. This initiative includes representatives from the New Mexico State Police, New Mexico Department of Health, Las Cruces Police, Las Cruces Fire, Dona Ana County Sheriff’s Office, Dona Ana County Health and Human Services, Aprendamos Intervention Team of Las Cruces and Sisbarro Auto. (Courtesy photo)


In an attempt to reverse this problem, a master’s in public health student at New Mexico State University, George Richards, is transforming his university research project into action and working in southern New Mexico to increase the use of child safety seats.

In the United States, motor vehicle accidents are a top 10 leading cause of death for children under the age of 14. In New Mexico between January and October 2014, 30 percent of motor vehicle accident fatalities were between the ages of 0-14. These statistics are just one reason that led Richards to focus his graduate research on child safety seats.

“Even well-intended caregivers make mistakes,” he said. “Child safety seats are not as simple as many people believe, and they are not all created equally. Some child safety seats are complex in nature, and many vehicle owner’s manuals fail to provide the detail necessary for caregivers to understand where in the vehicle a seat is permitted to be installed or how it should be installed.

“In some instances, the child safety seats are given to the caregiver second-hand with no manual, and in other instances, the caregiver does not read the child safety seats manual,” Richards said. “It is common for caregivers who do read the manual to not understand the mechanics of seat belt retractors and how to properly lock them. Some caregivers who install the child safety seats in the vehicle properly fail to secure the child in the seat properly. Many caregivers who read the manual and install the seat properly ultimately surrender to the desires of their children to have the safety harness loose over their body.”

Richards is coordinating a child safety seat clinic from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 26, at the Anthony, New Mexico, Fire Department located at 1055 W. Ohara Dr.

Additionally, Sept. 19 is National Seat Check Saturday and child safety seat clinics will be held from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. in Las Cruces at Kohl’s department store, 2500 N. Triviz Drive, and in Alamogordo at the Walmart Supercenter, 233 S. New York Ave.

“My goal is to apply health behavior theory models in order to increase child safety seat and vehicle seat belt use and reduce injury and mortality among children in New Mexico,” Richards said.

Cindy Kratzke, public health sciences associate professor at NMSU, said she encourages students to take their public health work back to their workplace or community, and she is proud of Richards’ commitment to changing lives.

“Our students are trying to change the conversation from cost of health to value of health for families and communities,” Kratzke said. “Students learn to develop innovative community or workplace programs to change knowledge, attitudes and behaviors for specific health issues.”

Not only are child safety seats a professional project for Richards, but also a personal one as well. Richards became a grandfather recently following the birth of his granddaughter, Avery Jade.

“She and every child in New Mexico deserve the right to live a long and healthy life, free of barriers to health and wellness,” he said. “My passion for the program and my desire to make a difference in my community make it easy to push this agenda at every opportunity I am afforded. I still have a long way to go, but I am a patient and persistent man.”

Richards became a Safer NM volunteer child passenger safety technician in March 2014.

“One of the reasons I was interested in becoming a child passenger safety technician was because of the amount of unrestrained children I witnessed ‘car surfing’ and unrestrained in vehicles on the roadways of New Mexico,” he said. “There are many behavioral and economic barriers in New Mexico that prevent children from being properly restrained in a moving vehicle. The Safer NM program works to overcome these obstacles by educating caregivers and providing the children of New Mexico with the opportunity to ride safer.”

Safer NM provides installation education and child safety seat checks for free to the public. The first Wednesday of every month from 4-6 p.m. Safer NM hosts a fitting station in Las Cruces at Sisbarro Buick/GMC, 425 W. Boutz Road.

For more information on the Safer NM Child Passenger Safety programs visit www.safernm.org.

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