‘A Safe Ride Home’ program brings used child safety car seats to families across Sonora

Her ASU email says her name is Whitney McCarthy so check on that with her? (Whitney Woodworth/DD)
Donated and inspected child safety seats are unloaded at the Phoenix Fire Department headquarters Tuesday. The seats were loaded onto a fire truck and will be given to families across the Sonoran border as part of Arizona’s “Safe Ride Home” partnership. (Whitney McCarthy Woodworth/DD)

City of Phoenix firefighter Jeff Steinbeck loaded a pallet stacked with car seats onto a forklift and maneuvered it into the back of a Mexico-bound fire truck, already piled with more than 250 gently used safety seats.

On Tuesday morning, city, state and health officials gathered at Phoenix Fire Department headquarters on the corner of 12th and Jackson streets to prepare the truck for a six-hour drive to the Arizona-Mexico border. The secondhand car seats will be given a new life, safely transporting the children of Sonora, Mexico.

A Safe Ride Home, a partnership of Rural/Metro Corporation, Phoenix Fire Department and the Arizona Department of Health Services, has collected more than 600 car seats for donation since January.

“In Mexico, less than 10 percent of kids are properly secured in a car,” Rural/Metro spokesman Colin Williams said. “Whereas in the United States, that number is over 90 percent.”

Safety technicians inspected the seats, verified they weren’t on any recall lists and stamped them for certification before sending the restraints to Mexico, Williams said.

Tomi St. Mars, chief of the office of injury prevention at the Arizona Department of Health Services, said there were strict requirements for a car seat to be certified. The seat must be less than 10 years old, unsoiled, gently used and with all safety features still intact.

Any car seats that do not pass inspection are dismantled and recycled by Phoenix Children’s Hospital.

“The project was the vision of our director, Will Humble, and the director of the health department in Sonora to address motor-vehicle crashes and deaths in both of our countries,” St. Mars said.

The Rio Rico Fire District in southern Arizona will store the car seats and distribute them to families in Sonora. The Arizona and Sonoran governments entered into a bilateral agreement with the mission of educating and providing drivers with proper safety restraints.

The cross-border program is the first of its kind.

“We are really bucking the trend,” St. Mars said.

The United States requires expiration dates on car seats, she said. After six years, the seats usually end up in a landfill.

“The car seats we are collecting have at least four to five years of life left,” Steinbeck said. “It’s a seat that you or I would put our son, daughter or grandchild in.”

For the past three years, Phoenix Fire Department has provided inspections for and collected expired seats. Recently, they partnered with Rural/Metro and the Arizona Department of Health Services for the cross-border program.

“The partnership is something we are all very proud of,” Williams said. “We are not just making a difference in this country. We are making a difference in Mexico as well.”

Steinbeck said the program is ongoing and will continue next year, hopefully with more exposure and momentum.

“We want the citizens of Arizona to see lasting benefits their gently used car seats can have,” he said.

The Arizona Department of Health Services website for A Safe Ride Home lists drop-off locations throughout Arizona for people to donate used car seats.

Even a simple item like a car seat can have a lasting impact on the families of Sonora. The cost of a car seat equates to three months of the average Mexican worker’s salary, Steinbeck said.

“It’s sometimes a choice between putting food on the table or buying their child a car seat,” Steinbeck said.

Thanks to the program, some families won’t have to make that decision.

Contact the reporter at Whitney.McCarthy@asu.edu