When it began nine years ago, the national campaign aimed at placing a vehicle's young passengers in the back seat faced an uphill battle.

For decades, children have been riding "shotgun" with their parents. They are within arm's reach. Putting them in the back seat seemed foreign. Public health officials, insurance executives and the automobile industry pushed and the results are now paying off.

A recent government study said the total number of child deaths in automobile accidents has declined 18 percent since 1996. That, coupled with better seat belt use, has resulted in fewer fatalities overall. The study's results were reported in a National Safety Council publication.

The shift seemed to be more pronounced and immediate among young children. The campaign stressed the danger air bags pose to small children.

Besides the inclusion of air bags on more vehicles since 1996, researchers say the enactment and enforcement of seat belt laws has helped lower the number of fatalities.

Changing social behavior takes time and continuous education. New parents need to be reminded of the importance of buckling kids into the back seat.

If the child's welfare isn't reason enough to buckle them in, how about an increased fine? The state law requiring motorists to buckle kids up changed in November from a $25 fine for non-compliance to $196.90.

This Week's Circulars