NEW SURVEY FINDS EIGHTY-THREE PERCENT OF WEST VIRGINIA 4-8 YEAR-OLDS AT GREATER RISK ON THE ROADS

Ford Motor Company Launches Massive Educational Campaign, Donates Thousands of Free Booster Seats Statewide

South Charleston, WV October 18, 2001- Armed with a new survey warning that 83 percent of West Virginia’s four- to eight-year-olds aren’t riding in booster seats and are at greater risk of injury or death on the roads, Ford Motor Company, West Virginia Division of Motor Vehicles, LifeBridge/United Way of Kanawha Valley, Toys “R” Us and a coalition of other local and national partners today launched Boost America! in the state as part of a new, national safety campaign. During the kick-off event, a local family was presented with the first of 6,000 free booster seats slated for income eligible families and Ford customers across West Virginia.

Roger Pritt, Commissioner of the West Virginia Division of Motor Vehicles, said, “Our children are our most precious resource, and this program will help keep them safe as they travel our roads and highways. I applaud Ford’s efforts to promote child passenger safety and for working to make such a difference in the lives of West Virginia children. We at the administrator level will work to close the gaps in West Virginia’s child passenger safety laws so that all children in the state are properly protected in appropriate child restraint systems.”

The Boost America! national campaign’s four key elements include: 1) an educational component, sent to all preschool and elementary schools in the nation (152,000+) featuring a video by superstars Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith for older children and a preschool kit featuring Blue from Nickelodeon’s Blues Clues; 2) distribution of one million free booster seats nationwide through United Way agencies and Ford Motor Company dealers, in cooperation with Toys “R” Us; 3) a push for sensible, state-level booster seat laws; and, 4) assistance to states and dealerships to train more child passenger safety technicians and hold child safety seat fittings stations at dealerships. To date, Boost America! has already given away 500,000 free booster seats nationwide.

A new Wirthlin Worldwide survey commissioned by Boost America!found that 86 percent of West Virginia parents and caregivers of four- to eight-year-olds have heard of booster seats, yet only 17 percent use them for their children.

According to Edward Miller, Communications Manager for Ford Motor Company, “This study shows that nearly 75 percent of parents may not have the correct information to protect their four- to eight-year-olds in motor vehicles. That’s an alarming number. Our goal is to educate parents and caregivers about the importance of booster seats, lend a helping hand to those who cannot afford booster seats on their own, and ultimately save lives.”

John Tabaretti, Lieutenant with the Charleston Police Department noted, “Booster seats provide a necessary transition for children who have outgrown child safety seats, but are not big enough to use adult safety belts alone. A booster seat raises a child up so that adult lap/shoulder belts fit and protect better – snugly across the chest and low across the hips. Our mission is to protect and safeguard the people on West Virginia’s highways.”

As part of the one million seat giveaway, Boost America! will provide 500,000 seats to income eligible families nationally through United Way agencies across the country and 500,000 seats to Ford customers through Ford dealerships and Toys “R” Us. Through United Way agencies in West Virginia and other safety partners, 6,000 booster seats will be distributed to families in financial need across the state. Through the International Center for Injury Prevention, families receiving a free booster seat via United Way will be given individual instruction on proper use of the seat by a certified child passenger safety technician.

“Bringing people and organizations together are key to community problem-solving, and the safety of our children takes precedence,” said Marilyn Donnellan, President of LifeBridge/United Way of Kanawha Valley. “Through partnerships with generous corporations like Ford Motor Company, the State of West Virginia and United Way’s partner agencies, we are able to provide people with the services they need.”

In addition to the 6,000 seats for income eligible families, Ford Motor Company dealers including Ford, Lincoln, Mercury, Volvo, Jaguar, Land Rover and Mazda, are providing a booster seat voucher to their customers statewide which can be redeemed for a free or discounted booster seat at any Toys “R” Us store. To date, more than 230,000 vouchers have been redeemed, nearly 1,000 in West Virginia alone.

Ron Ferrell, District Manager for Toys “R” Us in West Virginia said, “On behalf of Toys “R” Us employees everywhere, we are pleased to participate in this important campaign to promote booster seat safety. Our mission is to improve the lives of children, and this initiative will go a long way in doing just that.”

A giveaway event for income-eligible families will take place in Charleston, October 20th at the Laidley Field at the West Virginia Capital from 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. Those in the Charleston area who think they may qualify for a free booster seat should call LifeBridge/United Way of Kanawha Valley at (304) 340-3582 and ask for information about Boost America!

For other areas of the state, those who think they might qualify should call 1-866-BOOST-KID to get more information. Other giveaways will take place across the state over the coming months and will be announced accordingly.