Good morning. I want to thank DaimlerChrysler for inviting me to join you today for this important announcement. Before I begin, let me introduce the Safety Board staff here with me today: Elaine Weinstein is the Director of our Office of Safety Recommendations and Accomplishments. Danielle Roeber is our Alcohol Safety and Occupant Protection Coordinator.
In January 1999, the National Transportation Safety Board recommended that the States, the Federal government, vehicle manufacturers, and child restraint manufacturers establish fitting stations where parents could go to have their child restraints checked. In an earlier 1996 safety study on the performance and use of child restraints, seatbelts, and airbags for children in passenger vehicles, the Safety Board found that in 62 percent of the crashes it investigated, either (1) the restraint was improperly secured in the vehicle; (2) the child was improperly secured in the child restraint; or (3) both errors occurred. Even when parents or caregivers had received some instructions or information about the proper use of child restraint systems, more than half still made errors in either securing the child in the restraint or securing the restraint in the vehicle.
Ensuring proper child restraint use is not easy, certainly not as easy as it should be. In every model year, there are enough vehicle models and child restraint models to make nearly 14,000 potential combinations of vehicles and child restraints, each with their own unique compatibility issues. Multiply that by the number of model years still in use, and there are hundreds of thousands of possible combinations. The Safety Board estimates that over 10 million children a day are riding in improperly installed child restraints. Even the training course for child restraint technicians lasts 32 hours, at the end of which most participants wish they had more time.
Today, we have fitting stations in every State. Parents and caregivers have obtained valuable instruction from thousands of certified technicians across the country, and the lives of many children in America are safer. For example, just last week, there was a very serious rear-end collision on Interstate 66 in Virginia, involving a mother and her 3-month-old baby. A month before her baby was born, this mother had taken her vehicle to a firehouse and had her baby's infant seat inspected. The inspection revealed that although the mother had properly placed the infant seat in the back seat of the vehicle, she had not installed the infant seat correctly. Trained technicians at the firehouse made the appropriate changes. Because this mother used a fitting station, and because the technicians identified and corrected mistakes in how the infant seat was installed, the baby survived the collision unharmed.
Where written instructions and education materials have failed by themselves to ensure that child restraints are installed properly, fitting stations have succeeded.
DaimlerChrysler is recognized as a leader in the establishment of fitting stations. Its Fit for a Kid Program provides free, permanent child restraint inspection services to all families, no matter what make or model vehicle they drive and sets a standard for the automobile industry worldwide. This program has provided a much-needed lifesaving service to American families. In fact, the Fit for a Kid Program surpassed what we expected, in terms of quality and scope, and does so at no cost to families. At this time, DaimlerChrysler remains the only vehicle manufacturer that has fully implemented and even exceeded the Safety Board's recommendation.
However, DaimlerChrysler is not resting on its past accomplishments, and I am so pleased to be here today to help announce this new initiative: 1-866-SEAT-CHECK. As DaimlerChrysler and NHTSA have recognized, simply having the fitting stations is not enough. Parents have to know that fitting stations are available and know where these resources are located.
That's what makes DaimlerChrysler's new initiative so important. Approximately 94 percent of households have telephones, and will be able to access this toll-free number.
I hope that every vehicle and child restraint manufacturer, as well as the insurance industry and other organizations and corporations that support child health and safety issues, will contribute to DaimlerChrysler's new initiative by advertising the toll-free number and alerting DaimlerChrysler to new temporary or permanent fitting stations. As of today the SEAT CHECK toll free phone number and web site address will be available on the Safety Board's web site.
We have made great progress in protecting the children of America. But as DaimlerChrysler and NHTSA have recognized, more needs to be done. Parents require continual education on the appropriate use and installation of child restraints. Child restraints should be inspected not just once, but regularly as their children grow and their child restraints need adjustment. And there are new babies born every day whose parents need assistance in installing their first car seats. A toll-free number can help parents find the resources they need to have the peace of mind from knowing that they have done everything correctly.
I want to commend DaimlerChrysler and NHTSA for their continual commitment to child passenger safety.
I would now like to introduce Chuck Hurley, Vice President, Transportation Safety Group for National Safety Council. The National Safety Council is one of the other supporting partners in SEATCHECK.