Remarks by Jim Hall, Acting Chairman
National Transportation Safety Board
North Carolina Child Passenger Safety Conference

Greensboro, NC
January 17, 2001
 



Good morning. It is a pleasure to be here in Greensboro, with my friend Joe Parker. I want to commend, and thank, former Governor Jim Hunt for his efforts to make highway safety a priority in North Carolina. I hope that Governor Easley will continue those efforts and that other Governors will follow his lead.

I also want to recognize the contributions of the individuals you will also be hearing from -- North Carolina Insurance Commissioner Jim Long and National Safety Council Executive Director, Chuck Hurley.

Thorough the efforts of Governor Hunt, Commissioner Long, and Chuck Hurley to develop and promote the Click It or Ticket program, North Carolina has focused much needed attention on highway safety and has become a role model for other States. I also want to acknowledge Colonel Richard Holden of the North Carolina State Highway Patrol without whose support Click It or Ticket would not be the success that it is.

I am pleased to be sharing the podium with Autumn Alexander Skeen, who is so effectively taking the message across America that 4- to 8-year-old children need to be in booster seats. Her personal story is compelling and one that every legislator in North Carolina and every other State without a booster seat law should hear. I am also pleased to see Tim Hoyt from Nationwide Insurance here. Tim and his company have been leaders in promoting seat belt use and we need more insurance companies to follow their lead.

Let me also recognize Jamie Pericola, a member of my staff who is with me today.

  As you know, highway crashes are the leading cause of death for children in America. Let me review some chilling statistics for you - statistics that are the heartbreak of America --

In North Carolina, in 1999, 259 children died in motor vehicle crashes. That is almost 5 children under the age of 21 dying every week on this State's roadways. Tragically, 44 percent of those children were not buckled up.

This needless loss of young people's lives is why we are here today and why we must do better. We can take proactive action at every level of government and industry to make traveling on our highways as safe as traveling in our skies.

Automobile manufacturers can design vehicles with child safety in mind and highway safety laws can provide children one same level of safety - the highest level.

That's why we are here today - to change the safety culture on our roads and, by doing so, improve the safety of our children and all of us who travel our highways. For while North Carolina is a highway safety leader and the Click It or Ticket program and other similar highway safety efforts are a good start, much more needs to be done.

We know that seatbelts, like air bags, are designed for adults. That's why The Safety Board recommends that all children should be in the back seat, in children restraints to age 4, and in booster seats to the age of 8. North Carolina only requires children under 5 to be in the back seat in vehicles equipped with passenger-side air bags and children under 16 to be buckled up.

However, North Carolina does not require booster seats for 4- to 8-year-olds or children under 12 to ride in the back seat. In fact, no State has a child restraint law that truly puts kids first.

That's why I was disappointed that a model law developed in March 1999 by the Department of Transportation's Blue Ribbon Panel on protecting older children did not include a strong recommendation that 4- to 8-year-old children be in booster seats.

Therefore, today, I want to call upon the next Secretary of Transportation to reconvene the Blue Ribbon Panel on protecting older child passengers and to ask the panel to revise its model law so that it recommends the highest level of safety for our children.

And, it isn't enough to require parents and caregivers to use child safety restraints - they need to know they're being used properly. Because we didn't require automakers to design vehicles with kids in mind, surveys and safety seat clinics continually indicate that 80 percent or more of child safety seats are not properly installed or the child is not properly secured in the seat.

Two years ago, the Safety Board recommended that Federal and State governments and the automobile and child restraint manufacturers establish permanent fitting stations.

These stations allow parents to have a safety seat properly installed and to find out if they are using the right restraint for their child. Australia has had fitting stations since the 1980s and their misuse rates are reported to be as low as 16 percent in surveys of parents who have been to a fitting station.

I am pleased that the North Carolina responded to our challenge by establishing fitting stations at State Highway Patrol barracks and at a number of medical facilities. Other States have developed similar programs and several automobile manufacturers have also responded to our challenge by creating programs to assist parents.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's web site indicates that there are over 90 fitting station locations in North Carolina. But, remember there are more than 1.6 million children under the age of 14 and more than 3.4 million automobiles registered in North Carolina. So, although that's a great beginning, but I hope there'll be many more in the future.

According to Safety Board estimates, about 10 million children nationwide are still being transported in misused safety seats. We need everyone's help to close the gap between parents' perception that they are correctly buckling in their children and the reality that 80 percent of them are not.

We also need to ensure that all children are provided with the same high level of safety -- no matter their parents' income level or ethnic background. That's the American way - that's the value our society places on human life and happiness. And, that's why, last month, the Safety Board sponsored a meeting to discuss the importance of providing appropriate restraints for 4- to 8-year-olds in vehicles with lap-only belts.

Most booster seats on the market are designed for use with lap and shoulder belts. However, these belts have only been required in the outboard seating position of vehicle back seats since 1990.

That means that about 43 million vehicles on the road today have lap belts in all back seat positions. Shoulder belts are still not required in the center back seat position and many current model vehicles, including sport utility vehicles, only have lap belts in that position.

According to data obtained by the Safety Board:

At the December meeting, we identified a number of actions that can be taken to better protect these children, such as providing more products to use with lap-only belts; working with retailers to make the products available in appropriate stores; and finding ways to lower the costs of the restraint systems, including perhaps legislation to provide the seats through Medicaid.

During that meeting we also distributed a booklet that you received in your registration materials -- Putting Children First. We published it as part of our two-year child passenger safety initiative as an information resource for lawmakers, transportation decisionmakers and the public to highlight safety problems faced by children when they travel and possible solutions to those problems.

The booklet contains examples of accidents involving children, what's been done to correct problems brought to light by NTSB accident investigations, and what still needs to be done to improve our children's safety. It highlights nine different child safety issues and it 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. And, it is available on the NTSB's home page -- www.ntsb.gov.

Yes, there is still much to do - from daily reminding parents that America's highways are the most dangerous place they take their family each and every day to working together more effectively to put children's safety first.

I know you agree that it's time to take motor vehicle crashes off the list as the leading cause of children's deaths in the U.S. It's time to put children first.

And, it's time that we have one level of safety that ensures that the laws of every state are equally comprehensive for children of all ages. North Carolina has been the leader for highway safety - will you now be the leader for putting kids first?

Thank you again, for inviting me to join you. I wish you success in your efforts. I assure you that, as a private citizen, I will continue to speak out on the need to provide one level of safety - the highest level of safety for all children.