december cover

Buckle Up for Life

A single strap over the shoulder and click of the buckle could make all the difference in saving a child’s life in an automobile accident. But as it turns out, Hispanic children are less likely than others to be buckled up. In 2004, Toyota hit the accelerator on a program to help turn this around.

For children ages 1-12, car crashes are the number one cause of death in the U.S. However, the deaths and the serious injuries suffered during car accidents can be easily prevented by properly wearing a seat belt. This is why Toyota created Abrochate a La Vida (Buckle Up for Life), a one-of-a-kind program in partnership with the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, to decrease disparities in child passenger safety between ethnic groups.

In a study, 34 percent of Hispanic children under the age of 1 were not secured by a seat belt compared to 14 percent of non-Hispanic white children. In deadly car accidents, 45 percent of Hispanic children ages 1-3 were found to be unsecured by seat belts compared to 24 percent of non-Hispanic white children. It’s an issue that routinely goes unnoticed.

“We have a very strong commitment to safety and we believe everyone deserves to be safe,” said Patricia Salas Pineda, Group Vice President, National Philanthropy, of the Toyota USA Foundation. “When we learned from Cincinnati’s Children Hospital that African American and Latino children were less likely to buckle up, we were very alarmed by the statistics and that really is what gave birth to Buckle up for Life.”

Abrochate a La Vida strategically works within the community at a grassroots level to reach families and children that are most at risk. By teaming up with hospitals and local groups, Toyota distributes free car seats and matches up parents with certified child passenger safety technicians to help them properly install these in their cars and maximize their safety benefits.

By design, the program doesn’t stop there. Over a six-week period, all of the participants receive critical safety information from medical experts and trained specialists that is culturally relevant and addresses economic and socio-cultural concerns.

“During the 6 weeks it’s not just the parents, it’s the children as well,” Salas Pineda said. “So they learn at a very young age that it’s important for them to always buckle up and now many times we see children reminding parents to buckle up.”

For an issue that seems insurmountable, there have been some really profound results. In one case, the number of children who buckled up nearly tripled within families that participated in just one Abrochate a La Vida program.

“We all care about our children but it’s a matter of being informed about what you need to do in order to keep your child safe,” Salas Pineda said. “We’re also seeing that it goes beyond the 6-week period because the safety message is reinforced through church and it really is establishing a family tradition in our communities around buckling up.”

There are unique challenges facing the Latino community when it comes to this problem, including a language barrier. Toyota recently expanded the program to four new locations, including Texas Children’s Hospital in Houston, where participants can receive the life-saving information in Spanish as well. “For many of our families language has been a barrier and if you don’t speak English and you don’t have access to materials to tell you how to do it properly that’s a problem,” Salas Pineda said.

Abrochate a La Vida has reached 45,000 people and distributed nearly 20,000 free car seats to date. The program is currently in Las Vegas, Philadelphia, Orange County, Chicago, Los Angeles, San Antonio, Houston and Cincinnati. Toyota plans to double the reach of the program in coming years. “Toyota is really committed to the Latino community,” Salas Pineda said. “We want to do our part to give back to the community.”

Evelyn Castillo