FARGO — North Dakota ranks third among the states with the most child car crash fatalities, with about four child fatalities per 100,000 child population annually.
Only Mississippi and New Mexico have higher child car crash death rates, with approximately six and five child deaths per 100,000 child population, respectively.
Minnesota, by contrast, has a child motor vehicle fatality rate of about one death per 100,000 child population.
The 2016 statistics come from a report issued by SafeWise.com, a website that analyzed the most recent data available from the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration.
North Dakota's ranking is worrisome, but not surprising, according to Jody Jordet, a Sanford Children’s community life educator at Sanford Children's Car Seat Safety Center, 601 39th St. N., in Fargo.
Jordet said the fatality numbers don't surprise her because she knows it isn't unusual for parents to misuse a safety device, or move their children up to the next safety device before it is appropriate to make a change.
"A lot of parents rush their child from one safety device to the other," Jordet said.
"They rush them out of rear-facing (child car seats) and turn them forward facing too soon. And then they rush them into the booster (seat) too soon and then they transition them to an adult seat belt before they're ready to do that," Jordet said.
One transition in particular that parents like to push is the move from a booster seat to regular seat belts, Jordet said.
She said parents sometimes make the change to seat belts when a child turns 8 because it is legal to do so, even though a child may not be tall enough to safely use seat belts.
Jordet said the transition for that change usually happens around fifth grade, and one of the things her organization does is give presentations to students, reinforcing that booster seats should continue to be used until someone reaches a height of 4 feet, 9 inches.
"Many parents see age 8, they pop those kids right out of booster seats," Jordet said, adding that she can understand parents sometimes feeling overwhelmed by dealing with child car seats, which, she conceded, can be "a pain in the butt."
However, what can happen when child safety devices aren't used correctly became evident in a very public way in January, when a dash camera video went viral that showed a young child in a safety seat falling out of a vehicle as it drove on a street in Mankato, Minn.
The child was strapped in the seat properly, but the seat had not been securely anchored to the vehicle seat, police said.
The child in that incident wasn't seriously hurt. Nationally, however, 3,268 children 13 or younger were killed while riding in passenger vehicles from 2012 to 2016, according to the SafeWise report, which noted that more than a third of those children were not buckled in at all.
Crashes a top killer of kids 15-18
Another report, the North Dakota Child Fatality Review Panel Annual Report for 2015 and 2016, stated that 12 deaths occurred over those two years in North Dakota involving children ages 0-18 who were inside a moving vehicle.
Of those 12, only three, or 25 percent, were wearing a seat belt or safety restraint, the report said.
The report also indicated that in 2015 motor vehicle crashes were a leading cause of death for youth ages 15-18 in North Dakota.
Eight youths 15-18 years old died in North Dakota that year as a result of vehicle crashes and in five of those deaths, the youth was the operator of the vehicle, according to the report, which was prepared by the North Dakota Department of Human Services.
So what can parents do to reduce child vehicle fatalities?
Being a good role model is one way, according to Jordet.
"Consistently use child restraints or seat belts, even in the rural areas. Even on country roads. Even when driving to Grandma's house across town. Be a good example as a parent," Jordet said.
High-profile crash deaths are one thing, but another sad aspect of not using safety devices correctly is the number of children who become injured, according to Jordet.
"The news isn't privy to that information, so parents think: 'It doesn't apply to us.' But it does," she said.
For parents interested in learning more, Safe Kids Fargo/Moorhead conducts Car Seat Check Up Events at the Sanford Children's Seat Safety Center, 601 39th St. N., in Fargo every Tuesday and Thursday.
The events involve trained technicians who teach parents, grandparents and caregivers how to use and install car seats correctly. The activities are free and open to the public, although space is limited and appointments are required. For more information call 701-234-7233 or visit Sanford Children's Car Seat Inspections.
In addition, a teen driving class called “A Parent’s Guide to Teen Driving,” will be offered at 6:30 p.m., May 2. Call 701-234-7233, to sign up.