(THP release) On Monday, September 24, the Tennessee Highway Safety Office (THSO) joined the Tennessee Department of Health, the Tennessee Highway Patrol (THP), local law enforcement, local officials, and community advocates for a special event at the Rutherford County Health Department in Murfreesboro to kick off National Child Passenger Safety Week.
This celebratory event honored Dr. Robert Sanders, the Murfreesboro pediatrician known as “Dr. Seat Belt” due to his extraordinary role in the passage of Tennessee’s Child Passenger Protection Act in 1977. A historical marker was unveiled to commemorate Dr. Sanders and the implementation of this legislation 40 years ago. Installation of the marker was initiated by Dr. Charles E. Goodman, Jr., and sponsored by the Tennessee Medical Association.
“It is an honor for the Tennessee Highway Safety Office to participate in this commemoration by supporting Dr. Charles Goodman and Mrs. Pat Sanders,” said THSO Director Vic Donoho. “The work of Dr. Robert Sanders paved the way for agencies like the THSO to educate local communities and further prevent child injuries and fatalities. Currently, the THSO supports over 100 fitting stations across the state. These fitting stations conduct over 200 community events throughout the year.”
Dr. Sanders was born in middle Tennessee and received his education from Vanderbilt University Medical School. He served as director of the Rutherford County Health Department for 25 years. He and his wife, Pat, lobbied the Tennessee General Assembly for several years to pass a mandatory child restraint law. At the time, car seat use was less than 15 percent, and car crashes were the leading cause of death for young children.
“Forty years ago, Dr. Sanders, a public health pediatrician, helped Tennessee to lead the nation in saving children’s lives,” said Tennessee Department of Health Deputy Commissioner for Population Health Michael Warren, MD, MPH, FAAP. “We are proud to continue his legacy today and want to see every child in the right seat for every ride in any vehicle.”
In 1977, Tennessee became the first state to pass a child restraint law. Tennessee’s Child Passenger Protection Act required parents to secure infants and young children in child restraint systems meeting federal safety standards. The law went into effect in 1978, sparking legislative efforts in other states across the nation. Dr. Sanders became known as the pioneer of this groundbreaking movement. By 1985, all 50 states adopted a mandatory child restraint law.
“The Tennessee Highway Patrol is honored to support this historical milestone,” said THP Colonel Dereck Stewart. “In 2010, the THP issued 31,577 seat beat citations and child restraint violations, and the unrestrained fatality rate was 54 percent. Last year, the THP issued more than 115,000 seat belt citations and child restraint violations. This is a tangible result of our increased priority shift that has led to the unrestrained fatality rate dropping to 41 percent in 2017. The THP will continue prioritizing child passenger safety as we continue these efforts to save lives across Tennessee roadways.”