Remarks by Jim Hall, Acting Chairman
National Transportation Safety Board
A Call to Action: Protecting 4- to 8-year-old
Children in Vehicles with Lap-only Belts

Washington, DC
December 7, 2000
 



Good morning and welcome to the Safety Board's new Board Room and Conference Center.

I have been asked if we intentionally chose the anniversary of Pearl Harbor for this meeting. I can assure you that we do not plan to drop any bombs today. We do, however, have some very exciting and important announcements to make and Transportation Secretary Rodney Slater will be joining us at 9:30 to help us announce some significant new initiatives.

Earlier this year, I participated in several events to promote child safety seat use by minority children. In April, I joined the National Council of La Raza, Safe Kids, the United Auto Workers, and General Motors to raise awareness in the Latino community about the need for child safety seat use. In September, along with the NAACP, Safe Kids, the UAW, and GM, I participated in a safety seat fitting station and safety seat give-away event in Memphis, Tennessee.

Yesterday, I joined Dr. Bailey and Ford representatives as BoostAmerica! donated 15,000 booster seats to Native American tribes in 18 States. Although I was not able to attend their event in October, I also want to recognize DaimlerChrysler for their program to distribute safety seats to minority families.

The outcome of all of those events is why we're here today - to discuss what low-cost options exist to safely restrain 4- to 8-year-old children in cars that have only lap belts in the back seat, with particular focus on options for low-income and minority families.

  As everyone here knows, too many children die each year in motor vehicle crashes -- the leading cause of death for children. In the decade of the 1990s, over 90,000 children died in motor vehicle crashes and over 9 million were injured.

Eighty-six hundred of the children who died were between the ages of 4 and 8 - that's about 16 four- to eight-year-olds dying each week on America's highways in the last decade. Unfortunately, six out of 10 children killed are not buckled up.

In the past four years, there has been a concerted effort to focus more attention on the need to buckle up these children. Safety advocates, automobile and child restraint manufacturers, safety researchers, and State and Federal representatives have supported both educational and legislative activities.

Children between the ages of 4 and 8 are too big for child safety seats, but still too small for vehicle seatbelts. As a result, the booster seat is most widely available form of protection for them.

Proper use of a booster seat allows the lap belt to fit securely over a child's small hips and the shoulder belt across a child's chest. Without a booster seat, a child can slouch and slide forward, causing the vehicle lap belt to ride up onto the child's abdomen, resulting in serious or fatal injuries.

Booster seats currently on the market are, with one exception, designed for use with lap and shoulder belts. However, lap/shoulder belts have only been required in the outboard seating position of vehicle back seats since 1990. That means that about 34 percent of all cars (some 43 million vehicles) still in use today have lap belts in all back seat positions. Shoulder belts still are not required in the center back seat position and many current model vehicles, including sport utility vehicles - the family car of the 90s - only have lap belts in the center rear seat position.

There are still too many children at risk who need to be properly protected in cars that only have lap belts. According to data obtained by the Safety Board-

Based on this information, it is reasonable to assume that low-income families with children between the ages of 4 and 8 are likely to own a vehicle with lap-only belts in the back seat. Certified child safety seat inspectors have told the Safety Board that it is difficult to find booster seats (or equivalent protection for 4- to 8-year-old children), in retail stores, for use in vehicles with lap-only belts. The Safety Board is concerned that adequate, affordable protection is not readily available for these children when they are transported in cars.

That is why we have asked you to join us today to identify immediate, short-term, and long-term actions that can be taken by retailers, safety advocates, child safety seat manufacturers, States, and the Federal government to ensure that all children from all ethnic backgrounds and income groups are equally protected when they are traveling on our Nation's roadways.

INTRODUCE SUE BAILEY

It is now my pleasure to introduce Dr. Sue Bailey, the Administrator of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. In the short time that she has been at the agency, she has distinguished herself as a strong advocate for child passenger safety. I am pleased that she has joined us today to lend her support to this important issue. Hopefully, she will tell the story she told yesterday about how her interest in booster seat safety began 27 years ago.

AFTER DR. BAILEY SPEAKS CHAIRMAN HALL BEGINS PRESS CONFERENCE REMARKS

This morning's program focuses on 4- to 8-year-old children, but for the next few minutes, we want turn the focus to all children under age of 8.

We have been joined by Transportation Secretary Rodney Slater, and Triple A Managing Director for Traffic Safety Mark Edwards, for some important announcements that will help save children's lives.

According to Safety Board estimates, about 10 million children are riding around in misused child safety seats. Although 96 percent of parents think they are installing their child's safety seat correctly, 8 out of 10 are not. To address this problem, in 1999, the Safety Board called for the Federal and State governments and the automobile and child restraint manufacturers to establish permanent fitting stations where parents can go to have trained technicians help them install their child's safety seat properly.

The response to our challenge has been gratifying; fitting stations are now available in every State thanks to programs by DaimlerChrysler, General Motors, the National Safe Kids Campaign, and many other Safety advocates and volunteers in the States. It needs to be easier for parents, however, to find where fitting stations are located.

Fitting stations have also been made possible because the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration sponsored the development of a standardized training course that provides the necessary training for advocates to become certified technicians.

Although some technicians are salaried employees, many are volunteers. All of them justifiably worry about liability. We all know that we are living in a litigious society and, as a result, liability concerns deter some individuals and organizations from establishing or supporting fitting stations. Trained and certified technicians should not be afraid to conduct safety seat inspections because they are concerned about being sued.

Today we are able to announce solutions for these problems. I would like to introduce Mark Edwards, Executive Director of Triple A who has an announcement to make.

Mr. Edwards..

(Mr. Edwards speaks)

Chairman Hall speaks - It is now my pleasure to introduce to you Rodney Slater, Secretary of Transportation. Secretary Slater has made safety his priority at the Department and as a result we are all safer.

(Secretary Slater speaks)

Chairman Hall speaks - Dr. Bailey, would you like to say a few words?

(Dr. Bailey speaks)

Chairman Hall speaks -- Let me add my congratulations to Triple A and the Department of Transportation for these two important initiatives that will make it easier for America to transport its most valuable possession - its children - safely.

Not to be outdone, the Safety Board also has an announcement to make.

Many of you know that for the past 2 years the Safety Board has focused its resources on child transportation safety. As part of that initiative, we have created another information resource for lawmakers, transportation decisionmakers and the public - a booklet that highlights safety problems faced by children when they travel and solutions to those problems.

The booklet, entitled "Putting Children First," contains examples of accidents involving children, what's been done to correct problems that were brought to light by NTSB accident investigations, and what still needs to be done to improve safety for children.

The booklet highlights nine child safety issues. They are:

Starting today, the booklet will be available on the NTSB's home page -- www.ntsb.gov -- and is available in a printed version. It also contains a list of more than 40 NTSB safety recommendations that have not been fully implemented and emphasizes that when they are implemented child safety would be further enhanced.

Over the past few years, the NTSB has been diligently working to change the way the Nation thinks about the safety of its smallest passengers and to move the country towards a child-safe culture. The Safety Board urges every citizen and every government official to foster a safety culture that puts child transportation safety at the top of their safety agenda.

One level of safety, the highest possible level, should be provided for all children in every State and in every mode of transportation.

This publication will help focus attention on the problem and on possible solutions.

We have time for a few questions.