Good Morning. I am glad to be here today on behalf of the National Transportation Safety Board to share in this important announcement.
In November 1995, the Safety Board called for a nationwide, multi-media campaign to advise the public about the dangers that air bags pose to small children. The Safety Board's accident investigations showed that children had been killed or critically injured in crashes that would have been survivable if the air bag had not deployed. Unless immediate action were taken, the number of children killed or injured by air bags would have continued to increase. In May 1996, thanks to the support of the automobile and insurance industries and others, the Air Bag and Seat Belt Safety Campaign was launched. Today's announcement by the Air Bag & Seat Belt Safety Campaign clearly demonstrates the remarkable progress that can be made when industry, government, advocacy groups and the public come together to tackle a crisis.
The fact that the rate of child deaths each year by air bags has declined while the number of front seat passenger air bags has increased is truly remarkable progress and a tribute to the hard work of everyone involved.
News of deaths - both of children and adults - which were attributed to air bags riveted public attention. At the same time there was a tremendous amount of time, energy and resources focused on addressing the problem to prevent other needless deaths. The silver lining in the air bag tragedies was that it finally opened the nation's eyes to the importance of using seat belts and of restraining children properly in the back seat.
Much of the progress we're reporting today is a result of both attitude and behavior change associated with how the public transports children in vehicles. And it's not by chance.
The Campaign has educated millions of Americans about proper restraint use for children and adults through its three-pronged strategy of educate, enact, and enforce. It has helped States strengthen their seat belt laws. And through its twice-yearly Operation ABC Mobilizations, the Campaign has aided more than ten thousand law enforcement agencies nationwide as they work to step up enforcement of seat belt and child safety seat laws.
But our work, and your work, is not done. Although the numbers appear to be declining, children continue to be killed and injured by air bag deployments. There are always new parents who need to be educated about the dangers that air bags pose to children and every day there are families with young children buying used cars with first generation, fully powered air bags. These families need to be reminded to have their children ride in back.
The Safety Board previously called upon the states to strengthen their child passenger protection laws following a 1996 safety study on the performance and use of child safety seats, seat belts, and air bags for children in passenger vehicles. Specifically, the Board recommended that:
- All children under 4 should be required to be in child restraints that are appropriate for their age, height, and weight.
- Children ages 4 through 8 should be required to use booster seats.
- Substitution of lap/shoulder belts should not be permitted for children under age 8.
- All children under age 13 should be required to ride in the back seat, if a seat position is available.
No State currently has a law that meets all of the Safety Board's recommendations. The States have more work to do protect our youngest and most vulnerable citizens so we need to continue to work together. As we have seen today, progress remains a collaborative effort.
Improving the quality of the State seat belt and child passenger protection laws, stepping up enforcement of those laws and continuing to educate consumers on the ABCs of air bag safety is essential to achieving the highest level of safety on our roadways. The National Transportation Safety Board stands in continued strong support of these goals.
I want to commend the companies who continue to support the Air Bag & Seat Belt Safety Campaign and the Campaign staff. You should be proud of what you have accomplished.
Thank you and keep up the good work.