On a typically bright Saturday morning in Las Vegas, a group of Cub Scouts and their parents wander in and out of a local Chevy dealership showroom, checking out everything from sports cars to SUVs.
Everywhere, you can hear the excited squeals of the young boys. “Cool! Look at the cars!” No surprise, because mixing Cub Scouts and cars always has made a lively combination. Boys love learning about all things automotive—large or small. Think Pinewood Derby.
Today, though, it’s about more than just car gazing. It’s about lifesaving. And if that sounds like an exaggeration, also consider this: Preventable accidents rank as the leading cause of death among children in the United States. Authorities relate many of these motor-vehicle tragedies to neglect or misunderstanding of car-safety rules.
So what can the Boy Scouts of America do about it?
The BSA teamed up with Safe Kids Buckle Up and Chevrolet to create the Cub Scout Automotive Safety Patch program, teaching and reminding Cub Scouts and their parents about basic car-safety skills. “Boys are at an especially high risk for accidental injury,” says Jeanne Cosgrove, director of Safe Kids Clark County and the organizer of this event. “That’s why the Cub Scout partnership with us is so perfect.”
The local Safe Kids coalition provides the trainers who teach the vehicle safety skills. The dealership supplies the vehicles and hands each Cub Scout a patch at the completion of the course. And the BSA supplies—what else?—the kids.
That makes the event a slam dunk for Cub Scouts and pack leaders who show up for a fun morning of instructional activities and for parents who are used to days, or weeks, of planning for an afternoon activity.
On the morning of the event, Cub Scouts and parents take a “pre-test.” The boys answer questions such as, “Is it OK to play in the trunk of a car?” and “When is it OK to play near a car?” Parents respond to questions that include, “What is the safest position for a lap and shoulder seat belt?” and “How much should a child weigh to best fit in a booster seat?”
“We’ve developed the program so that not only kids, but parents get educated, too,” says Wes Bender, manager of West Coast operations for the program. Bender emphasizes that a key element of the experience requires that parents and Cub Scouts attend together. “When you can teach a child and a parent at the same time, it makes a perfect impact,” he says.
After the pre-test, Cub Scouts receive a “passport” and travel to different vehicle stations with their parents to learn safety skills. At one such station, Safe Kids trainer Jo Preston emphasizes to “Never leave a child alone in a car.” With two thermometers, one on the inside and another on the outside of the vehicle, Preston demonstrates just how quickly car interiors can heat up in the Nevada sun.
“On a day that’s 90 degrees—which is pleasant in Las Vegas—the car will heat up to 120 degrees in just 20 minutes,” she tells the wide-eyed Cub Scouts. “The next time your parents want to leave you in the car, even for a minute, tell them, ‘Take me with you!’”
Rob Weinstock, a father and den leader from Pack 578 says the best part of the program for him is that it empowers the kids with knowledge of what to do. “In most vehicle-related tragedies,” he says, “the parents make the mistake. But after this, my kids will call me on it if I leave them alone.”
At the next station, Cub Scouts also learn that trunks are only for cargo and see the special glow-in-the-dark emergency release handle found inside the trunks of vehicles. The boys also check out the OnStar button, standard equipment inside all General Motors vehicles that a parent or child can press to receive emergency help.
Cub Scouts also learn to take responsibility for their passengers’ safety. “Always check to make sure everyone in your vehicle is wearing a seat belt,” trainer Kyle Vantasky tells them, before showing the parents and boys how seat belts should fit.
“There are three checkpoints,” he explains. “Knees must be at the edge of the seat, the lap belt must be across the hips, and the shoulder belt must be over the collar bone, not the neck.”
“It looks like my Cub Scout’s a little on the short side,” says Melissa Neitz, a den leader and mother from Pack 614 of Henderson. “I’ll have to put my son, Alec, back into a booster seat.” To her surprise, the 8-year-old didn’t seem to mind.
Alec’s willingness to go back to the booster seat turns out to be an added value of the event, Bender says. “It takes away some of the peer pressure if their friends are there and understand why a boy still needs a booster.”
The seat-belt station draws a lot of interest. But the station with the largest impact on the parents is “Spot the Tot,” where participants learn to avoid vehicle back-over accidents.
Cosgrove invites a Cub Scout mother to sit in the driver’s seat of a large SUV. Then, she positions a Cub Scout behind the vehicle at different distances. At six feet behind the vehicle Cosgrove calls to the mother, “Can you see him?”
“No,” the mom replies.
At 10 feet the woman still cannot see her son. Only when the Cub Scout is 12 feet behind the vehicle can the parent “spot the tot.”
The demonstration startles many of the parents. “I got the chills,” says Barbara Pecor, a mother whose boy is in Pack 848 of Las Vegas. “Sometimes I just back up and never think twice.”
“I’m going today to get a back-up camera installed in my car,” says Lisa Goodwin, also from Pack 848. “My children are all older, but my neighborhood is full of babies.”
By the end of the event, the Cub Scouts have had fun and will take home several messages to think about. And the leaders see the Automotive Safety Patch Program as an easy way to teach necessary skills. “It was nice to have experts talking [about car safety], and not just me,” says Sherelle Knowlden, Cubmaster from Pack 614.
In one morning, she says, the boys learned all sorts of important things:
Never play in, or around, a car.
Always wear your seat belt.
Don’t sit in the front seat unless you’re 13.
“And they got a patch!”
DO Try this at home
With more than 600 Safe Kids chapters and coalitions in all 50 states, Cub Scout packs in most places have access to the Automotive Safety Patch Program. Here’s how to bring this program to your boys:
First, check out the Safe Kids Web site at safekidsweb.org/cubscouts/default.asp. Once there, click on “For Pack Leaders” in the top menu.
Before submitting for more information, click to read the original pack list or the recent inquiries to see if other packs in your area might be able to work together.
Then, click the link to provide more information to the site and you’ll receive additional program materials from the Safe Kids Action Center.
After submitting info online, pack leaders must contact the local Safe Kids coalition, who will then coordinate efforts among the coalition, pack leaders, and Chevrolet dealers to plan an event.
The program may not be available in all areas, so check with your local coalition for details.
Nettie Francis is the editor of The Wyoming Woman Magazine.