Good afternoon. It is a pleasure to be here in Albany during child passenger safety week to address a matter of critical importance - protecting our children on the streets and highways of America. I am pleased that later today the transportation committee will consider strengthening the provisions of its child passenger protection law to be consistent with the best science available today and to provide the children of New York the highest level of safety available.
Improving the quality of the State's child passenger protection law is essential because parents trust their State law to give them the best guidance available regarding protection of their children in cars, vans, and SUV's. It is tragic that children die every week in America in crashes where they are buckled up according to their State law, but their State law is not consistent with the laws of physics or the state-of-the-art of safety.
Data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration shows that for the five years, 1994 through 1999, 734 children under the age of 10 died in New York in motor vehicle crashes. Tragically 53 percent of those children were not buckled up. Even children who are buckled up tend to be in restraint systems that are misused. According to information from fitting stations and observational surveys more than 8 out of 10 children are in safety seats that are not properly used.
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 safely in the back seat, if a seat position is available
In 1999, the Safety Board asked the states to establish permanent fitting stations where parents can have the installation of their child restraint checked and corrected. Such fitting stations are now in existence in every State and as correspondence we received in July 2000, New York had 57 fitting stations. I am sure there are many more now.
Injuries sustained by children in crashes can have life-long consequences. A recent study by Children's Hospital of Philadelphia found that young children in seat belts were more likely to suffer a significant injury, including head injuries, than were young children in age-appropriate child restraint systems. Children also suffer serious abdominal and spinal injuries when they "submarine" or "jackknife" in seat belts designed for 170-pound adults. Children between 4 and 8 years of age should be restrained in a booster seat.
Further, children should ride in the back seat - the safest location in a vehicle. This is becoming more important every day as the portion of the total vehicle fleet that is equipped with first generation air bags grows. As these cars are resold to second and third owners, more needless deaths are likely to occur because parents, unaware of the problems associated with these devices, follow existing State laws that permit their children in the front seat.
Last week, I participated in a press conference sponsored by the National Safe Kids Campaign in which they rated the comprehensiveness of the 50 State laws. Only one State received an A and, I regret to say, New York received a D. The package of bills that the legislature is considering today will go a long way towards raising New York's grade, but more importantly, towards providing the highest level of safety for the children of New York.
I hope that the Legislature will act promptly on these important measures. It is time to close the gap between what is legal and what is safe for the children of New York.
Speeches & Testimony