People in the child passenger safety field are some of the most passionate advocates you’ll ever meet. And they infused passion into the virtual 2020 Texas Child Passenger Safety Conference Sept. 9–11, 2020. The fourth annual event had more than 400 attendees, most of whom are child passenger safety technicians (CPSTs). Organized by the Texas A&M Transportation Institute (TTI) and the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service and sponsored by the Texas Department of Transportation, the conference helps CPSTs learn about the latest research and trends in child passenger safety while providing them with continuing education credits for CPST recertification.
The conference’s webinar vendor, eShow, created an online “conference” experience for attendees starting with a screen depicting a conference center. Clicking on “Enter Venue” sweeps you up the steps and into the lobby. You hear a familiar voice — Lieutenant Lonny Haschel — welcome you to the conference. Lt. Haschel says, “The work you do matters. There are thousands of families around our state who have benefitted from your knowledge and expertise.”
TTI Senior Research Scientist Katie Womack set the mood for the event, saying, “Get ready, get comfortable, and we’ll get started with the program.” Maggi Gunnels, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) Region 6 administrator who opened the conference, says her favorite part is seeing how passionate the child passenger safety community is. “I really appreciate everything you do,” said Maggi to the virtual audience. “It’s your leadership that makes all the difference in the world.”
Attendees participated in a variety of activities, including
- general sessions,
- workshop breakout sessions,
- on-your-own-time games within the eShow platform (with prizes awarded),
- manufacturer updates,
- a jeopardy game in its own separate session,
- exhibitor hall presentations,
- chats with fellow attendees and presenters,
- a BYOB social hour with friends, and
- #CPSC2020 social media posts and engagement.
The keynote speaker, Laura Dunn, child passenger safety subject matter expert in NHTSA’s Office of Occupant Protection, let us take a walk in her shoes to see how she started her career in child passenger safety. Her keynote, Moving Forward in Child Passenger Safety, told her story of working as an undergraduate intern, where she earned her CPST certification at the Children’s Hospital of Illinois over two summers. Laura really enjoyed that kind of work, so when she graduated, she accepted a job as an Illinois Department of Transportation regional occupant protection coordinator, traveling the roads of Illinois with a car packed full of car seats. “I did a lot of child passenger safety work, every day,” recalled Dunn.
Dunn realized she wanted to go further and influence decision making about child passenger safety. She moved her family to St. Louis, Missouri, and worked at the St. Louis Children’s Hospital, while also attending graduate school. In a graduate school listserv, she heard about an Association of Schools and Programs of Public Health fellowship at NHTSA. “I was lucky to be selected for this fellowship,” says Dunn.
In a whirlwind of activity, Dunn relocated her family to Washington, D.C., where she worked as a public health fellow at NHTSA for two years, and then, when a permanent job at NHTSA became available, she applied and got the job — her current position. “People have a passion for the issue of child passenger safety,” noted Dunn. She is one of the creative minds behind the promotional materials NHTSA produces about child passenger safety. Sept. 20–26, 2020, is NHTSA’s Child Passenger Safety Week, and Sept. 26 is National Seat Check Saturday. If you’re interested in traffic safety marketing materials, please visit NHTSA’s Child Passenger Safety Week webpage for a plethora of resources.
Dunn shared a valuable tool for CPSTs working remotely: NHTSA’s national digital car seat check form. With this form, CPSTs can track and make progress on car seat checks — while working from the safety and comfort of their own home. “This is a cool project,” Dunn told attendees. “If you guys haven’t participated in the national digital car seat check form, I would really encourage you to do so.” If you’d like to access the form, please go to the national digital car seat check form webpage.
On Sept. 11, the conference’s opening session honored those who lost their lives in the attacks in 2001. Conference organizers played the national anthem and other songs in remembrance of the events of 9/11, and they displayed an image of the American flag during the session. Lt. Haschel said, “We all need to never forget what happened.” The child passenger safety community filled the chat section with memories about 9/11.
Looking back on this year’s online event, Womack notes, “Putting on this conference is one of the most gratifying things we are privileged to do. The virtual conference was a new but exciting experience for us, and truly a team effort. We’re very pleased with the positive response from attendees.”
The next Texas Child Passenger Safety Conference will be held June 29–July 1, 2021, in Sugar Land, Texas. Passion is what fuels CPSTs in the child passenger safety field. It’s because they hold the most important thing near and dear to their heart — every child deserves a safe ride.