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Remarks at the National Council of La Raza Child Car Seat Check-up Event, Los Angeles, California
Jim Hall
National Council of La Raza Child Car Seat Check-up Event, Los Angeles, California

Buenos dias! Gracias, Raul, for your kind introduction. I am afraid that is the extent of my Spanish, so the rest of my remarks will be in English. A copy of my remarks, however, is available in Spanish.

I am pleased to be in East Los Angeles today - because it is such an appropriate place for me to be talking about an issue that is so vital to Latino families all across America.

Before I go further, let me introduce the Safety Board staff who are here with me today: Barry Sweedler of our Office of Safety Recommendations and Accomplishments; Phil Frame, from our Office of Public Affairs; Jamie Pericola from my staff in Washington; and Mary Juarez Arnold and Rivy Cole, from our Los Angeles office.

As the Safety Board Chairman, one of my responsibilities over the past five and a half years has been to meet with transportation crash survivors and the families of victims. I spend a lot of time listening to their concerns and their desire to protect themselves and their families when they travel and to ensure that no other family ever has to endure a similar tragedy.

Unfortunately, many of my conversations are with parents who have lost children in traffic crashes. They all tell me the same thing - how frustrated they are by the difficulties they encounter trying to ensure the safety of their children when they're traveling by automobile.

Statistics tell us that they're right to be concerned:

  • In the last decade, more than 400,000 people died on our highways and over 32 million were injured.
  • Between 1990 and 1999, over 90,000 children under the age of 20 died in motor vehicle crashes.
  • Over 16,500 of those children were under the age of 10 - that's 33 children under the age of 10 dying every week on our highways.
  • During that same time frame, over 57,500 young people between 15 and 20 died in traffic crashes - more than 110 each week.
  • And, over 9 million children were injured.

As a result of my many conversations with worried parents and the Board's findings from its investigations of highway crashes, about 15 months ago I focused much of the Board's resources on two critical issues: child transportation safety and heavy vehicle safety.

Today, I want to talk to you about how we can improve automobile safety and how we can keep our most precious passengers, our children, safer when they're traveling on our nation's roadways.

Highway tragedies do not discriminate. Whites, Asians, Latinos, African-Americans, and Native Americans are all equally vulnerable. However, statistically, highway fatalities are more prevalent among Latino and African-American children.

According to a study by the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health:

  • Latino children under the age of four have the second highest highway death rate after African-American children.
  • The death rate for Latino children aged 5 to 12 is 43 percent lower than the rate for African-American children in the same age group, but 72 percent greater than the rate for white children.
  • And, Latino teens have the highest occupant death rate among all 13- to 19-year-olds.

We react with horror at every random act of street violence that takes the life of an innocent child and we demand action when a child is killed in one of our schools. Yet, we should react with equal shock to the number one killer of our children - highway crashes. It's time we did. And, it's time that we all demand that something be done to end this needless loss of young lives on our roadways, because there is much to be done!

But, we need to realize that we - as parents, as citizens - have a responsibility to "do something" as well. Part of the solution is to put our children in the back seat and buckle them - and ourselves - up every time we get in a vehicle. Just think, by buckling up, we can cut the number of highway fatalities in half.

However, because seat belts are designed for adults, children under the age of eight need to be secured in a child safety seat or booster seat that's appropriate for their size and weight.

Child safety seats have proven to be more than 70 percent effective in preventing deaths and serious injuries. But, to get all of the benefits these safety seats offer, the child restraints must be used properly.

Although nine out of 10 parents who do buckle up their children think they are doing it correctly, surveys continually show that eight out of 10 unintentionally make mistakes that could result in their child being injured or killed in a crash. That's why child safety seat inspection events, like the one being sponsored here today by NCLR, United Auto Workers Union, General Motors and National Safe Kids, is so important.

That's also why the National Transportation Safety Board has called upon automakers, the states, and others to establish permanent child safety seat fitting stations. We want every parent to have every opportunity to be sure that every child is riding safely in every vehicle. We do not want another parent or caregiver to discover too late that they haven't protected their child as well as they thought they had.

Both General Motors and DaimlerChrysler have answered the call and have programs available now. Ford told me recently that it would soon have a program to help parents properly buckle up their children. These programs are free to anyone who wants to take advantage of them. I want to thank GM for its commitment and for making today's event possible. Other organizations, some of which are represented here today, have joined in the effort as well. The National Safe Kids Campaign has been a leader in this endeavor and I especially want to thank the local Safe Kids Coalition for dedicating its time to join us here to help the East L.A. Latino community make sure that its children are riding safely. Safe Kids, the United Auto Workers, and General Motors have already distributed 13,000 free child safety seats through NCLR's affiliates.

But, we need more child seat fitting stations in Latino communities to help Latino families. Local businesses can make this happen. I want to call upon every local business owner to make their employees' and their customers' children safer by participating in this vital public service. Just contact NCLR - they'll tell you how you, too, can help save lives.

I also want to urge the studios and production companies - whether they are making a movie, a television show, or a commercial - to always show children, when they're being transported in an automobile:

  • Riding in the back seat; and
  • Buckled up and in the appropriate restraint for their size and weight.

The Safety Board first asked the Motion Picture Association of America and the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences to take this action in 1997. By consistently showing children properly buckled up in cars, Hollywood can save children's lives. If they would do that, Hollywood can contribute to reversing the trend of motor vehicle crashes being the leading cause of death of children, and make our highways and every driver and passenger safer.

It's time to change the safety culture in our communities and on our highways. We must be willing to put the safety of our children - white children, Asian children, Latino children, African-American children, Native American children, all children - first and we must be willing to take the actions necessary to ensure their safety. We need your help to change the culture in the Latino community - a community that puts children first must start doing so on our highways.

Today's a good start - everyone here is taking the first step in making sure that all children are protected. I hope each of you will pass on the message and tell everyone you know that it's time to stop the senseless loss of our children.

Thank you all for being here today. Our future is riding with you. Thank you for helping us protect it.