I have a confession to make. I'm the grateful dad to two toddlers, but whenever I get a National Automobile Dealers Assn. press release touting its efforts in promoting child-car-seat and safety-restraint awareness, I yawn and hit the delete button. “Come on guys, give us some real news.” I growl to myself. So I was surprised when the proverbial light bulb flashed above my head as I listened to Charley Smith, NADA's chairman, address Detroit's Automotive Press Assn. He was promoting safety-seat awareness and the role dealers can play. As I began to stifle another yawn (sorry Charley), it dawned on me: NADA is on to something here.
I purchased a minivan for my wife and not once did anyone at the dealership make any reference to child-safety seats, even though they knew I had young kids. My wife later set up an appointment with the local AAA office to make sure we had properly secured the seat.
It would have been so much better — and more convenient — if the dealership had a program to educate us about child-safety restraints.
If you think it's not a problem, consider this: According to the National Highway and Traffic Safety Administration, 2,296 children under the age of four were killed in car crashes in 2001. Vehicle crashes are the leading killer of children ages 4-14 annually. More than 40% of children under the age of eight who die or suffer serious injuries in car crashes are unrestrained.
Smith tells Ward's only four people out of 30 that recently came by his New Mexico dealership to have their child-safety seats inspected during a child-safety promotion had secured them properly.
Granted, dealers are in the business of selling and servicing vehicles, not educating consumers or compensating for their ignorance. Frankly, there is an element of parental responsibility here.
The liability issue adds another roadblock. Some dealers, citing a legal risk, are reluctant for employees to provide instructions on the proper installation of child-safety seats.
Nevertheless, dealers should take a leadership role in this issue. Consider the benefits. What could be more noble and satisfying than potentially saving a child's life?
And I'm sure most dealers can find a financial benefit to promoting child-safety awareness. Hey, I'm a good capitalist — doing the right thing and making a profit do not have to be mutually exclusive goals. Often, the two work well together.
Also, what dealer couldn't benefit from some good p.r.?
The question is how to pull this off.
Smith suggests partnering with another organization. His dealership partnered with the local hospital that provided a certified individual to do the inspections at the dealership. Other personnel checked blood pressure of people that came by the store. And dealership technicians conducted free vehicle-safety inspections and service.
A dealership could do a direct mail campaign promoting an event. Local media could be contacted and invited. Likely partners could be the local fire department or an insurance company. Free car washes, balloons for the children and free vehicle inspections could help drive the promotion.
While people get their child-safety seats inspected, the dealership staff could collect personal information and add those folks to databases. The bottom line is do something, and be creative doing it.
The benefits could be far reaching.
Cliff Banks is the associate editor of Ward's Dealer Business. He's at [email protected].