In response to discussion regarding the status of Safety Recommendation A-95-51, to "revise 14 Code of Federal Regulation (CFR) Parts 91, 135, and 121 to require that all occupants be restrained during takeoff, landing, and turbulent conditions, and that all infants and small children be restrained in a manner appropriate to their size," staff has once again reviewed the relevant facts associated with the recommendation and prepared the following summary. The principle argument against requiring child restraints has used statistical and economic models to predict diversion from air to highway travel. Such diversions can result in the additional risk of highway crash injuries and/or fatalities. Rather than evaluating the assumptions and metrics of those arguments, staff chose to take an alternate approach of analyzing data associated with historic instances when diversion from air travel was known to have occurred. Also included is the resulting effect observed in highway travel and associated injuries/fatalities.
The current exemption for children under 2 years of age from the requirements of 14 CFR Parts 91, 135, and 121 for aircraft occupants to be properly restrained during taxi, takeoff, landing, and turbulent conditions was first specified in the revised Federal Aviation Regulations that followed the 1958 establishment of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) out of the previous Civil Aeronautics Authority. However, the practice of allowing an "infant" to be held rather than restrained during flight dates to the mid 1920's and the beginning of commercial air travel. The infant exemption from any restraint requirement was initially granted out of practicality, since infants could not be properly restrained in the existing aircraft seats.
Infant and child restraint systems became widely available for use in automobiles during the 1960s and 70s, and by the mid 1980s all U.S. states required young children to be properly restrained in an appropriate child safety seat when traveling in an automobile. In contrast, despite several Safety Board recommendations and ongoing lobbying efforts by concerned organizations including the Association of Flight Attendants and the American Academy of Pediatrics, and the 1998 Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking by the FAA to require child restraints, there is still no requirement that children under 2 be protected by any form of restraint during flight.
Contrary to the arguments that have been raised in opposition to a CRS requirement, staff does not believe that such a requirement would result in an unreasonable burden on passengers or air carriers. Previous problems of child restraint availability have now been solved with dual certification standards for both road vehicles and aircraft, and dually certified CRSs are now widely available.
The FAA has further argued that the cost for implementing such a requirement ultimately does not justify the potential benefits. Not only does staff disagree with this argument based on the statistical problems associated with making predictions based on small numbers, but also because it is contrary to all reasonable safety practices. Because laboratory and real-world accident data have shown that lap-held children cannot be adequately protected, the age of the passenger becomes arbitrary. Choosing to continue to exempt children under 2 from an adequate restraint requirement is then no different from granting a similar exemption for any other segment of the passenger population. Although ludicrous, exempting children under 2 is not functionally different from exempting passengers over 80 from a restraint requirement. Further, passengers are now required to securely stow all carry-on baggage during takeoff and landing because of the potential risk of injury to other passengers in the event of an unexpected hazard encounter. However, the same passengers are permitted to hold a child of equal size and weight in their lap. When children under 2 are not required to be restrained for their own safety, the safety of their fellow passengers also becomes an issue.
After considerable analysis of real-world air and road vehicle data, staff has found that in extreme cases, diversion from air travel may result in increased risk of fatality or injury for some specific vehicle, trip, and driver types, but this accident risk is not evenly distributed and no evidence was found to suggest an increased risk for children under 5 years old. In total, there does not appear to be a clearly defined relationship between diversion from air travel and highway accidents or injury. In fact, despite the acknowledged difference in relative risk between road and commercial airline travel in the United States, and the largest diversion from air travel in U.S. history during recent years, road fatalities and injuries for children under 5 years old have continued to decrease.