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Remarks at the National Safe Kids Campaign Leadership Conference, Washington, DC
Jim Hall
National Safe Kids Campaign Leadership Conference, Washington, DC

Good morning. It is an honor for me to be here this morning at this Leadership Conference of the National Safe Kids Campaign and to be able to recognize one of the Number One teams of volunteers in America. Being from Tennessee, which you know is the Volunteer State, I am always pleased to be among so many fellow volunteers. We also like our volunteers in Tennessee to be winners. In Tennessee, we're proud to say that all of our volunteers are winners.

And, this year's no different. Unfortunately, it's not the University of Tennessee football team. Instead, this year, it's the Chattanooga Safe Kids Coalition. I want to congratulate the Safe Kids Coalition in my hometown of Chattanooga for winning the Safe Kids Champion Award yesterday as one of the outstanding local coalitions. Let me congratulate Jamie Case, who I understand is not here because she has a new baby at home, and Brooke Tippenger, the new Chattanooga Safe Kids coordinator, as well as all of the hard-working volunteers of the Chattanooga Safe Kids Coalition, for all of their efforts to help our fellow Tennesseans, our friends and neighbors, properly protect their children.

Before I go on, let me introduce members of the Safety Board staff who are with me today. Elaine Weinstein, from our Office of Safety Recommendations and Accomplishments, has been coordinating our child and youth initiative for the past year. Phil Frame, from our Public Affairs Office, has been instrumental in getting the press to pay attention to this important issue. Phil will be working full time on this initiative for next few months with Elaine. Barry Sweedler is here. Barry is the Director of the Office of Safety Recommendations and Accomplishments. And, finally, Nicholas Worrell, from my office.

Last year, when I spoke to you, I talked about the problems that parents face when they try to buckle their children into child safety seats. It is still inconceivable to me that for the last two decades, we as a nation have permitted a situation to exist in which eight out of 10 children are riding in misused child safety seats and therefore not receiving the benefits of a restraint system that parents and caregivers bought thinking they were paying for extra protection.

At your conference last year, I called upon the automobile industry, the States, and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, to support the establishment of child safety seat fitting stations where parents and caregivers could go for car seat check-ups to ensure that they're:

  • Using the correct safety seat for the size of their child.
  • Installing the seat properly.
  • Securing their child into the seat properly.
  • And, getting information about safety seat and vehicle compatibility.

Here we are - just a year later - and fitting stations are fast becoming a reality around this country. General Motors and DaimlerChrysler, two of the largest automobile manufacturers in the world, have demonstrated with their deeds and their dollars that they are committed to child transportation safety by making fitting stations available to the public. That's terrific news for the children of America.

But General Motors and DaimlerChrysler, even with the help of the many dedicated volunteers across the country, like the Safe Kids Coalitions, cannot provide service for everyone in the country by themselves. There are just too many children and parents who require this type of support and assistance. It's time for all who are concerned with safety, including other automobile manufacturers and dealers, insurance companies, child safety seat manufacturers, State transportation officials, and highway safety advocates, to name a few, to become actively involved in this lifesaving program and provide similar services for their customers and citizens.

I want to give you 14 important reasons why these fitting stations are so essential. They are:

    1. Stephen Guarino - 5 years old.
    2. Katherine Molinari - 1½ years old.
    3. Jack Campbell - 11 months old.
    4. The Dickerson baby - 14 months old.
    5. Matthew Hamon - 2 years old.
    6. Jenna Bertoni - 9 months old.
    7. Zachary Webb - 2½ years old.
    8. Amber Hall - 2½ months old.
    9. Zuriel Haire - 8 months old.
    10. Zachary Baker - 4 years old.
    11. His little brother, John Baker - 2 years old.
    12. Amanda Lawer - 4 years old.
    13. Ashley Moore - 3 years old.
    14. And, Jacob Breese - 2½ years old.

Each of these children survived a crash because their parents took the time to go to a fitting station sponsored by a member of the Safe Kids Coalition.

Let me share just one story about how one child safety seat fitting station and one volunteer helped safe one child's life.

Stephen Guarino's mother took him to a Montgomery County, Maryland, Safe Kids car seat check-up event last February. Child passenger safety specialists fitted little Stephen properly into a belt-positioning booster seat so that he would have the optimum protection in the event of a crash. The next day, Stephen and his mother were in a crash so severe that Mrs. Guarino thought that her son might be dead. Fortunately, he wasn't. He only suffered a few cuts and bruises - because he had been properly restrained in a booster seat - thanks to his mother and Safe Kids. Mrs. Guarino, you already have the best award - which is an uninjured child - but please stand up and let us recognize you not only for making the effort to go to the Montgomery county check up event but I've been told that since the accident you have become a vocal advocate of fitting stations and a certified safety seat instructor. Please join me in a round of applause for Mrs. Guarino.

Every parent of every one of the 14 children I just named can tell you a similar story. But, basically, each of those children, and countless more are alive and healthy today for five reasons:

  1. Because volunteers, like Kathy Wood, of the Montgomery County Safe Kids Coalition and the Washington Regional Child Passenger Safety Team, generously gave of their time to inspect child safety seats that parents bring to the fitting stations.
  2. Because an automobile manufacturer - in this case General Motors - saw the need to provide this service to parents.
  3. Because an automobile dealer - in this case, Jack Fitzgerald - saw the importance of supporting these inspections for his community and his customers.
  4. Because Stephen's mother was concerned enough to take the time to go to the fitting station.
  5. And, because the attention that's being given to this effort has served a dual purpose - focusing everyone on ensuring that children are properly and securely restrained, and, equally important, focusing everyone, especially parents, on the importance of automobile safety in the lives and well-being of their children.

I understand that Jack Fitzgerald is in the audience. Jack, would you please stand up for just a moment? For those of you who don't know him, Jack is one of the most dedicated automobile dealers I know, especially when it comes to promoting the need for child safety seat fitting stations. His support for and dedication to this effort literally saved the Guarino family. Fitzgerald Auto Malls hold the national record for the largest child safety seat fitting station ever held. In just one day, his dealerships inspected 586 child safety seats. And, if I'm not mistaken, they were assisted by the local Safe Kids coalitions. Please join me in thanking Jack Fitzgerald for his support of this important initiative.

I also want to take a moment to recognize all of the Safe Kids coalitions and volunteers who have helped save the lives of those 14 children I mentioned earlier. As I mention your coalition, would the representatives of that coalition please stand to be recognized?

    1. Montgomery County, Maryland, Safe Kids Coalition.
    2. San Diego, California, Safe Kids Coalition.
    3. Delaware County, Ohio, Safe Kids Coalition.
    4. Mississippi Safe Kids Coalition.
    5. Kansas Safe Kids Coalition.
    6. Connecticut Safe Kids Coalition.
    7. Johnson County, Kansas, Safe Kids Coalition.
    8. Northwest Tennessee Safe Kids Coalition.
    9. Midlands, South Carolina, Safe Kids Coalition.
    10. Vigo County, Indiana, Safe Kids Coalition.
    11. Greater Cleveland, Ohio, Safe Kids Coalition.
    12. Rogers County, Oklahoma, Safe Kids Coalition.
    13. And, the Nebraska Safe Kids Coalition.

How about a nice round of applause for all of them? Thank you all again for all of your hard work to help protect America's children.

I have no doubt that we'll be hearing more stories abut how more children were saved from death or serious injury as more fitting stations become available to the public and as more parents take advantage of their services. The program that General Motors and National Safe Kids will be announcing to the public shortly will make it even easier for parents in all 50 States and the District of Columbia to have access to fitting stations because mobile fitting stations will be coming to them, in their communities.

On behalf of the children of America, I want to again thank General Motors and the National Safe Kids Campaign for their proactive response to the Safety Board's call for fitting stations.