I am very pleased to be here to help launch the national rollout of Daimler-Chrysler's Fit for a Kid program.
Last year, I called upon the automobile industry, local, state, and federal governments, and parents to do more to protect our nation's children when they're travelling on our highways. Traffic crashes are the leading cause of death for children in America and they're taking a terrible toll on families and our country's future.
There should be nothing more important to all of us - as Americans - than the safety of our children. Yet, we continue to tolerate a situation in which six out of 10 children in fatal automobile crashes are unrestrained, and eight out of 10 children who are restrained are in child safety seats have been improperly installed and aren't providing an adequate level of protection. Certainly not the protection that a properly installed seat would.
As a result, nearly 15,000 children under the age of 10 died in motor vehicle crashes during the 1990s. In other words, in the last decade, five children under the age of 10 died needlessly every day in motor vehicle crashes.
In an effort to stop this carnage, last year, as Sue said, I asked the automobile manufacturers, the States, and others to establish permanent fitting stations where parents and other caregivers can go at their convenience to ensure that they:
- Use the correct safety seat for the size of their child;
- Install the seat properly; · Secure the child into the seat properly; and
- Obtain information about the compatibility between safety seats and various vehicles.
When we issued our recommendations, I did not imagine that one company would answer the call so quickly - or so effectively. Within five months, DaimlerChrysler announced its Fit for a Kid program and set a high standard for the entire automobile industry worldwide to emulate. By establishing the first system of permanent child safety seat fitting stations in the country, Daimler-Chrysler has shown their concern for America's children.
By making its Fit for a Kid child safety seat fitting stations available to every family in America, DaimlerChrysler will help save countless children from needless death and injury. Today, they are setting the bar even higher - and taking another truly significant step forward to improve the safety of our nation's children. It is a remarkable commitment by DaimlerChrysler and its dealers and I congratulate them.
I also want to recognize the many others who are working to improve child passenger safety.
- General Motors and the National SAFE KIDS Campaign have partnered to educate parents about the need to buckle up children and they have conducted hundreds of periodic child safety seat inspection clinics. GM and Safe Kids announced last month that they are expanding their efforts to provide mobile fitting stations in every state.
- At the local level, safety advocacy groups; police officers; and fire, medical and rescue personnel are conducting periodic safety seat inspections.
Through activities such as these, we are building a solid foundation of facilities that parents can turn to for advice on properly buckling in their kids. But there is still an enormous need to be met and we need your help to meet it. As Sue pointed out, 96 percent of parents who use child safety seats don't realize that the seats aren't being properly used. Therefore, they're unaware that their children are at risk. The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) estimates that over 10 million kids a day are riding in improperly installed child safety seats. We cannot continue to tolerate this unwarranted and unnecessary risk. We must all work together, including the reporters here today, to get the word out to every parent and caregiver. We must make them aware of the risks and encourage them to have their child safety seats checked.
We know that these inspections make a difference. There are many stories of children who survived a crash unharmed because their parents had had their safety seats inspected the day before or the day of the accident. Therefore, I urge every parent and caregiver to take advantage of Fit for a Kid and have their children's safety seats inspected at the earliest opportunity.
In Australia, where fitting stations have been in existence for 15 years, child safety seat misuse rates are as low as 16 percent. The misuse rate in this country is more than four times that. We can - we must - do better. America should never be second best - especially when it comes to protecting our children.
In closing, let me say that I've now been the Chairman of the Safety Board for almost six years. Long enough to know what government and industry can and should do to make our transportation systems safer. I'm convinced that the one thing they must do - together - is to change the safety culture on our highways. The carnage on our nation's roads must end and the only way it will is by everyone working together in a coordinated effort. That's why the actions that DaimlerChrysler is taking are so important. They have taken a significant step toward that goal.
So today, I am once again calling upon all automobile manufacturers and organizations concerned with children's and traffic safety to demonstrate the same leadership that DaimlerChrysler has by becoming actively involved in this important effort to change the culture on our highways and to make our children safer.