A week after Barbara Halvey took her 1998 Ford Contour to a Chrysler dealer in Burlington, WI for an inspection of a child seat, her car was slammed from behind and shoved into a car in front.
Despite this serious "sandwich" accident, Ms. Halvey's daughter, Monica, three, emerged unscathed.
Ms. Halvey credits DaimlerChrysler's Fit For A Kid program for the safety of her daughter.
At Miller Motors, inspectors Pat Schulz and Lyn Henriksen decided that an old model shield booster seat didn't sufficiently support Monica's head, neck or back. They recommended swapping that seat for a new Fisher-Price booster seat offering more support.
DaimlerChrysler's program is typical of the industry's increased focus on child safety on the road.
About 1,800 kids under age 14 are killed in traffic crashes annually. Another 280,000 are injured. Part of the reason is that 40% travel unrestrained in cars and those who are buckled up use non-effective child seats or are restrained incorrectly.
Surveys reveal that about 85% of all young passengers in safety seats sit improperly restrained.
DaimlerChrysler is spending about $10 million on child safety and its dealers are spending half that amount on the Fit For A Kid program.
Christopher Miller, owner of Miller Motors, says, "The decision to become a Fit For A Kid dealer was an easy one for me. With three kids under six, my wife and I know first-hand how difficult it can be to install a seat."
About 500 DaimlerChrysler dealers participate in the Fit For A Kid program in more than 90 markets. The company expects to enroll 1,000 dealers by year's end.
Jack Fitzgerald, owner of Fitzgerald Auto Mall in Maryland, is a leader in GM's partnership with the National Safe Kids Campaign. Mr. Fitzgerald has sponsored safety seat checkups at his five dealerships.
At one such event, it was discovered that 90% of kid seats were improperly installed. A total of 90% of Mr. Fitzgerald's employees have attended four-day child passenger safety training classes.
More than 1,000 dealers also are pivotal in GM programs designed to promote effective child safety seat use. The dealers have partnered with the National Safe Kids Campaign, which has 270 state and local coalitions.
Those dealers have checked 27,000 kid seats in all makes of cars.
GM has also launched a fleet of 51 Chevrolet minivans - one for each state and Washington, DC. The minivans are used in a program to conduct safety seat checkups, regardless of car make, at dealerships, shopping malls and community centers.
GM has trained about 3,000 dealer personnel to become expert in inspecting safety GM eventually hopes to train 6,000 persons - half dealership, half community volunteers.
In addition, GM and the UAW have contributed $5 million to distribute safety seats to needy families through Gen. Colin Powell's America's Promise organization.
Ford Motor Co.'s new "Boost America" program focuses on protecting kids four to eight years of age who have outgrown conventional child seats. Ford budgeted $15 million for the first 12 months of the program to distribute 500,000 booster safety seats to needy families.
Ford is also developing a voucher system in which its dealers will distribute another 500,000 vouchers for booster seats to customers.
Ford dealers are expected to play a large role in the program. The company is urging parents to consult with dealers on the correct installation of car seats.
BMW has added a feature to its Ultimate Drive program - The Ultimate Child Safety Seat Clinic. The program is co-sponsored by Britax, the world's largest manufacturer of child safety seats.
Honda dealers hosted parents and children for the third annual Child Safety Awareness Day. Participating Honda dealers instruct parents on the proper installation of child safety seats while their kids are entertained with other events.