Personal Tragedy Turns to Campaign to Protect Others

August 8, 2000 – Ford Motor Company today named child booster seat advocate Autumn Alexander Skeen of Walla Walla, Washington, as its Boost America! “Safety Ambassador.” Boost America! is the company’s $15 million, multi-year child booster seat education campaign which will reach out to every daycare and preschool in the nation and distribute one million booster seats in its first year alone.

“No parent should ever have to lose a child, especially if it is easily preventable. If sharing my story will encourage even one parent to use a booster seat for their child, my work with Boost America! will have been time well spent,” Skeen said. “I’m pleased to work with Ford Motor Company and others on this far-reaching campaign that has the power to change our culture and make a real difference by saving lives.”

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), only 6 percent of the approximately 20 million children who should be riding in booster seats are using them. More than 500 children ages 4 to 8 are killed each year and thousands more are injured in motor vehicle crashes. Many of the deaths and injuries could be prevented by the proper use of belt positioning booster seats, preferably in the back seat, that work with the vehicle’s lap and shoulder belts to provide the best possible protection for children 40 to 80 pounds (roughly 4 to 8 years-old).

Skeen is partnering with Ford Motor Company to give a human dimension to the statistics. She will relate the tragedy in her family’s life that made her a nationally-recognized booster seat advocate. In 1996, her four year-old son, Anton, we killed in a crash. He was buckled into a standard vehicle lap-shoulder safety belt. When he was thrown out of the vehicle by the force of the crash, the safety belt was still clicked shut. Skeen, who was driving, survived the crash because she was using her lap and shoulder belt.

“We are honored to have Autumn Alexander Skeen’s participation in this important safety campaign. Autumn’s energy and inspirational story will send a strong message to youngsters and parents alike that booster seats are the safe and fun way for older children to ride in a motor vehicle,” Ford President and CEO Jac Nasser said.

Since her personal tragedy, Skeen has worked tirelessly to warn others of the need for booster seats. She is also responsible for Washington becoming the first state to enact a booster seat law. Named in honor of her son, “Anton’s Law” was signed last March. Her moving story was featured on ABC’s 20/20, in Readers Digest, and in newspapers across the country.

Skeen will serve as a consultant to the campaign, write opinion pieces, attend safety events, conduct media interviews and give speeches on the need for all children weighing 40 to 80 pounds to travel in belt-positioning booster seats combined with lap and shoulder belts.

Boost America! will educate parents and caregivers on the need for and the proper use of booster seats through innovative educational materials that will be distributed this fall to every day care center and elementary school in the country. The packages will include a fun video for children, as well as take-home information to share with parents. In addition, Boost America! will provide up to one million booster seats in the first year alone – half to low income families and half to new Ford Motor Company customers.

“As a nation, we have made great progress in protecting infants in cars crashes, but we also need to focus on older children,” Nasser said.

As the name suggests, a booster seat boosts a child up so that the car’s seat belts will fit properly. They are recommended for children who are too big for forward facing child safety seats, but too small for regular adult seat belts — between 40 and 80 pounds, or roughly ages 4 to 8. When placed in poorly fitting adult lap and shoulder belts without a booster, the lap portion of the belt can rise over the child’s abdomen and the shoulder portion of the belt can cut across the neck and face causing serious internal injuries in a crash. Children can also slip out of the belt altogether and be ejected in a crash.

Boost America! is one of the most extensive public/private safety partnerships ever. The U.S. Department of Transportation’s NHTSA is the lead partner, joined by some of the nation’s leading health, safety, education and law enforcement organizations.