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Speeches

Remarks before the National Safe Kids Leadership Conference
Jim Hall
National Safe Kids Leadership Conference
1/13/1999

Good morning. It's so nice to be here today.

I've been looking forward to this event as a way to get a fresh start on a new year. We need a fresh start here in Washington after the year we had in 1998 - I'm sure you know what I'm referring to. I mean, those Redskins were pitiful, weren't they?

At least in my household, we got to celebrate a national football championship when my alma mater, Tennessee, won the Fiesta Bowl last week. Now, that's getting the new year off to a good beginning!

    As you know, Tennessee's team is known as the Volunteers, and I am proud of their efforts that made them the1 football team in America. And, while Tennessee is indisputably1 in football, this organization is truly one of the1 teams of volunteers in America.

    But while football is important to me, the most important thing in my life as an individual is my children.

I believe that the most important thing to any of our communities is our children.

The most important thing to our nation is our children.

And, the most important measure of the values of our society is how we take care of our children.

    I am sure you know as well as I do that no individual tragedy is more devastating to a parent than the loss of a child. I know this as a fact - not, thankfully, from my own experience, but from my service as Chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board. On far too many occasions I have met, sat with, listened to, and sometimes held, parents whose grief was more than any human heart can hold.

    That is why I am so glad to speak to this group today, to honor you, and to honor your efforts to keep children safe.

    For the most devastating thing that has happened to our nation in this decade is the deaths of so many of our young people. From infants to toddlers to pre-teens and teenagers. In just the past 8 years we have seen over 60,000 children killed as motor vehicle occupants. That is more Americans than were killed in a similar time frame in the Vietnam War. As a Vietnam veteran, and as a parent, I find that horrifying.

    I am here today to join you in the hope that we can end these needless deaths of our children on our highways. We need to start putting children first in motor vehicle safety and if we do that we will all be safer. Nineteen ninety nine can be the Year of Child Transportation Safety.

    I would like to discuss two ways we can do this together - one in an area familiar to you - the issue of child seats, and the second a broad agenda of transportation safety measures that will save kids' lives. I ask today for your support of these measures as we carry this message to lawmakers, manufacturers and the American people in 1999.

    First, as you are already aware, the work of the National Safe Kids Coalition over the past 10 years has focused on a problem America can no longer ignore. Recently, you have sponsored over 800 safety seat check-up events, checked nearly 17,000 seats and trained over 5,500 people on how to spot and fix improperly installed seats. While that is a significant number, it is a small fraction of the quarter million child safety seats sold annually.

    Your records indicate that of those who take the time to come to the safety seat check-ups, 87 percent of them have improperly installed seats in their vehicles. It is very likely that the vast majority of the millions of seats that you don't get to inspect are also misused.

    I became even more aware of this problem recently when I saw first hand the important work your Coalition does. Last Halloween, I spent part of the day in my hometown of Chattanooga, Tennessee, with the Chattanooga Safe Kids Coalition. Volunteers from the Coalition conducted a safety seat check-up at a local Chevrolet dealership. I want to compliment Jamie Case and her staff for their professionalism and enthusiasm in undertaking this project, and for allowing me to participate. During that event, 58 seats were checked and all but one had been installed improperly.

    I was astonished by the results. It's not only a cause for concern, but also a call for us to look at the source of the problem. It certainly isn't lack of caring on the part of parents and vehicle owners.

    Here is what we are up against:

    · If you list all the cars and light trucks on sale in this country for the 1999 model year, you can come up with over 200 different nameplates.

    · At the same time, there are about 68 different models of child car seats on the market today.

    · Basic math tells you that this results in nearly 14,000 potential combinations of cars and car seats, each with their own unique compatibility issues.

    That's just 1999. Remember that cars on the road today are roughly 9 years old on average and car seats tend to hang around for awhile, too, as they are handed off among families. So, in reality, there may be 1,000 vehicle models and 100 different car seats - potentially 100,000 ways to confuse the average consumer.

    Research shows that child safety seats reduce the risk of fatal injury by 65 percent for infants and 47 percent for toddlers. That's how important their proper use is. In 1997 alone, 604 child occupants under age 5 were killed in motor vehicle crashes, more than half of them totally unrestrained. Making sure children are restrained is the first task; making sure parents know how to properly use the restraints is the second task. Unfortunately, most parents do not know the seats are improperly installed until after a crash in which their child is killed or injured.

    It is precisely because of situations such as this that government must get involved to do something to ensure the safe transportation of our kids.

    That is why I am pleased that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is close to announcing a new rule that will require special attachments for child safety seats in cars and light trucks. This is a rule that the NTSB and others in the safety community have requested for several years.

    The new required attachments will make it easier to install safety seats in vehicles because when the rule goes into effect all newly manufactured child safety seats will be compatible with all newly manufactured cars and trucks. Obviously, it will be many years before all cars and child safety seats have these attachments, however.

    But this only solves half of the problem, and even at that, only for vehicles in the future. It does not address the millions of vehicles on the road today. The other half of the child safety seat problem is that it's hard for anyone to know when children are buckled into their seats properly.

    I personally think the government should work with child safety seat manufacturers to make it easier for parents to correctly buckle a child into the safety seat. And, over the next few months, the Safety Board will meet with automobile and safety seat manufacturers, as well as insurance companies, to work toward that goal.

    The NTSB also believes that the federal and state governments should be more directly involved in assuring that child safety seats are used correctly and in forming partnerships that will accomplish that important task.

    To that end, today I'm announcing a new recommendation just approved by the Board that asks ...

    · The governors of the states and territories,

    · The Mayor of the District of Columbia,

    · NHTSA,

    · Automobile dealers,

    · and the manufacturers of automobiles and child restraints ...

    ... to coordinate the creation of permanent fitting stations across the United States.

These fitting stations would be fixed locations where parents and other caregivers can go at their convenience:

    · To ensure they are using the correct safety seat for the size of their child.

    · To ensure they have installed the seat properly.

    · To be sure they have secured the child into the seat properly, and

    · To get information about compatibility between safety seats and various vehicles.

    The fitting stations will provide a constant source of information on how to use and install safety seats. The clinics you run now, while effective and beneficial, are limited in duration and are dependent on publicity to get the word out. Some parents may learn about them too late, or they may be busy during the hours that the checkup event is being conducted. These permanent stations will eliminate many of these problems and will allow us to reach out to many more people. Nothing supports this NTSB recommendation more than the rate of misuse detected in your clinics.

    Australia has had permanent safety seat fitting stations for almost 15 years. In 1985, the Traffic Authority of New South Wales set out to reduce injuries from incorrectly installed restraints, and established a statewide network of 60 child restraint fitting stations. Since then, 132 fitting stations have been established in that state, and other Australian states also have initiated their own efforts.

    The Safety Board believes that fitting stations can be established all across the United States - at vehicle inspection sites, motor vehicle administration offices, fire stations, automobile dealerships, or safety organization offices. Proper training and certification of inspectors and liability insurance can overcome liability concerns.

We need your support for this recommendation because you know, first hand, the importance of, and the need for, this endeavor. Your volunteer initiatives must become a permanent part of our safety net for all kids so that we do not continue to lose children at the current rate, approximately 9,000 children under the age of 10 during the 1990s alone.

Let's now turn to the other reasons why I am asking you to help me make 1999 the Year of Child Transportation Safety. You see, the problem with improperly used safety seats is just one of the challenges the NTSB identified in a 1996 study on the performance of child restraint systems, seat belts and air bags for children. There is much this nation needs to do in all areas of transportation safety if it truly wishes to end the needless loss of so many innocent lives.

In this regard, there are a number of initiatives that we need your help on to ensure that this worthy goal is achieved.

    · As I previously mentioned, all light vehicles - cars, vans, SUVs and pickups - should have uniform child safety seat attachments. Designs of child safety seats should be simplified so that children can be more easily secured in the seat. Until those things happen, car seat checkpoints should continue, and permanent fitting stations should be created.

    · We should ensure that all 4- to 8-year-olds are properly secured in booster seats - another reason for fitting stations. This is just one aspect of state child restraint laws that needs to be strengthened. Exemptions that allow any child to be unrestrained in cars should be eliminated.

    · All states should adopt seat belt laws that allow police to pull cars over when they see a violation. Seat belt surveys have shown dramatically that when a driver is buckled, restraint use for children is 94 percent. When a driver is unbuckled, restraint use for children is 30 percent. That's a pretty compelling argument.

    · It is time for our auto manufacturers and government regulators to put kids first in the design and testing of automobiles and light trucks. While passenger vehicles are safer now than ever, neither seat belts, back seats nor air bags have been designed with kids in mind. This issue deserves more emphasis by those in the position to take action.

    · We should ensure that all children ages 12 and under ride in the back seat, which is the safest place in a vehicle. A 1997 study by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety found that riding in the back seat cut the risk of death for children under age 13 by 35 percent for vehicles without air bags. For vehicles with air bags, the benefit was even more dramatic, the risk was cut by 53 percent.

    · States should adopt strong graduated driver's licensing for teenagers, including zero tolerance for teens who drink and drive.

    · We should seek ways to improve occupant protection in school buses.

    · Integrated child seats should be more available in cars and trucks, and I personally think they could be beneficial in planes and school buses, too.

    · All children riding in boats or personal watercraft should be required to wear personal flotation devices. Children who operate them should be trained and licensed, when appropriate.

    · We must ensure that all children in airplanes are buckled up in child safety seats or seat belts. It's astonishing that regulations require everything in a plane to be secured during takeoffs and landings - everything except our smallest children. Our accident investigation experience has shown that it is impossible for a parent to hold onto a child during an airline crash sequence. This has led to instances where the restrained parent has survived an accident but the child being held died of impact injuries.

    · As in all aspects of our society, we should begin work to provide all of our kids equal rights when it comes to motor vehicle safety. I am particularly concerned by some research by the Insurance Institute showing that the risk of African American children ages 5 to 12 dying in a crash is almost three times as great as for white children. The Institute also found that the rate of Hispanic children dying in a crash is greater than white children, and that African American and Hispanic male teenagers have the highest death rates per vehicle miles traveled. All organizations dedicated to saving children's lives need to look at where we are directing our efforts to make sure these kinds of disparities are eliminated.

    In the 1930s, Will Rogers noted in his weekly newspaper column that 22,000 people had died the previous year in automobile crashes in the United States. He observed that if cholera, smallpox or some other disease killed that many people, Congress and every agency of the government would be appropriately motivated and would do everything they could to solve the problem. Too bad, he concluded. Too bad.

    It was too bad - and it still is. While much has been done since the 1930s, more needs to be done - much more.

    Let's resolve in 1999, as the new millenium approaches, that we will use the technology available, the abundant resources at our disposal and the unlimited love and compassion we all have for all children to prevent the needless loss of more of our most precious resource - our kids.

    It seems appropriate that the first highway safety recommendation the NTSB issued this year deals with the safety of our kids. It highlights the priority that this issue has for us, and I know that it has for you. It is time for the safety of our children to be a priority for the entire transportation community.

    As a way of getting the word out as quickly as possible about what we've discussed today, my remarks are already on our web page and can be accessed at www.ntsb.gov. The recommendation we've issued today is on that web site as well.

    Thank you for allowing me to begin with you what I hope will be a successful year of improving child transportation safety. I know we can get much accomplished by working together.

 

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