Good Morning. I am pleased to be here today to participate in this very important event to distribute child safety seats to low-income families. Mr. Mfume, I want to thank you for your eloquent remarks and for hosting us today.
The most dangerous place that we take our children every day is on our nation's highways. Every day, about six children under the age of 15 are killed and another 797 are injured in motor vehicle crashes. Last year, more than 8,100 children in that age group were involved in fatal crashes. Fifty-six percent of those killed were unrestrained.
Highway crashes do not discriminate - Caucasian, Asian, Latino, African-American, and Native American children are all equally vulnerable. However, statistically, highway fatalities are more prevalent among African-American children. Research conducted by Baltimore's Johns Hopkins University School of Public Health and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety found that an African-American child between the ages of 5 and 12 is three times more likely to die in a motor vehicle crash per mile traveled than is a Caucasian child.
There is a solution, however. Using child safety seats and seat belts can reduce by half the number of children fatally injured in motor vehicle crashes. In 1996, the National Transportation Safety Board asked the States to strengthen their child passenger safety laws to ensure that all children are properly restrained in age-appropriate restraint systems and that they ride in the back seats of cars. Children need to be in child safety seats until they are 4 years old and then in booster seats from age 4 to about 8. Most 4- to 8-year-olds are either unbuckled or in restraint systems too advanced for their age and size - usually because they are using seat belts rather than booster seats. Seat belts, like air bags, are designed for adults and do not properly fit children until they are about 5 feet tall.
Even when an infant and toddler is in a child safety seat, 80 percent of the time the seats are not being properly used. Over the past few years, the Safety Board has been working with others, including the National Safe Kids Campaign and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, to educate the parents and caregivers about the importance of using child safety seats. And, together with a number of organizations, we have also been actively working to establish child safety seat fitting stations across the country where parents can get hands-on help to ensure that their child is properly buckled into a child safety seat that has been properly buckled into the automobile.
There are now fitting stations available in all 50 states. In addition to those established by the states and automobile manufacturers, the National Safe Kids coalitions' mobile vans are being used to set up fitting stations in shopping malls and automobile dealerships. Current statistics indicate that more than 200,000 child safety seats have been inspected through the Safe Kids Buckle Up program since its inception in 1996. Later this morning, we will see why these fitting stations have become so critical in helping parents install their safety seats properly.
All children are entitled to the highest level of safety we can provide for them. Last year, the Safety Board sponsored a meeting with public and private sector organizations to focus attention on ensuring that adequate, affordable safety seat protection is readily available for low-income families.
As a result of that meeting, we are now part of a task force along with the Departments of Transportation and Health and Human Services and the Centers for Disease Control to address the issue of equal access to child restraints and booster seats. That is why programs such as this one sponsored by the NAACP, the National Safe Kids Campaign, the United Auto Workers, and General Motors is so important. As a result of the effort being announced today, nearly 10,000 child safety seats will be distributed to low-income families in more than 95 locations across the country.
I want to thank the NAACP, UAW, and General Motors for their continuing
efforts to promote child passenger safety. And, I want to commend the local
Safe Kids coalition for dedicating their time today - and every day --
to conduct the safety seat inspections. Together, all of your efforts will
save lives and there is no greater reward.
AFRICAN AMERICAN AND LATINO DEATH AND INJURY STATISTICS1
The child safety seat problem: The most dangerous place we take our children every day is on our Nation's highways. The vast majority of children killed or injured in motor vehicle crashes are not buckled up at all.
When child safety seats are used, 4 out of 5 are not used correctly. There are two problems. (1) Fastening the safety seat to the car and (2) buckling the child into the safety seat.
Car seat costs:
Car seat design: It is too hard to buckle the child into the safety seat and parents don't know if they have done it wrong until it is too late.
Fitting Stations recommendation: NTSB wants to see the States establish permanent locations where parents can go to get information on proper use of their child safety seat. They could be set up at State motor vehicle offices, firehouses, automobile dealerships, or safety group offices. The GM/Safe Kids mobile vans are an important complement to permanent locations. The NTSB recommendation was issued in 1999. Fitting stations now exist in all 50 states.
Kids in back: Kids are safer in the back seat of the car in most circumstances. Public policy needs to move in that direction. Cars on the road with the original powerful air bags, those manufactured before 1998, will be passed on for years to come. We cannot assume that the second, third and fourth generation owners of these cars will know that the air bags in their cars are not safe for their children. By then, all the new cars will have advanced technology air bags and the message of kids in back that we hear so often today, may have faded away. Parents should not be lulled into a false sense of security that because they have advanced air bag technology that it is okay to put their child up front. For all of these reasons, it is time to make it a habit for children to ride in the back seat.
There may be circumstances where a child is better protected sitting in a lap/shoulder belt in the front seat of a car than in a lap-only belt in the back seat and public policymakers should consider that there are always exceptions. But the majority of children are safer in the back seat and this should be the message.