Good afternoon. I am pleased to be here in Memphis to participate in an event of such critical importance to the families of America. I am particularly pleased to be here with my good friend, Congressman Harold Ford, Jr., and I want to thank him for taking the time from his busy schedule to join us.
The most dangerous place we take our children every day is on our Nation's highways. Recent statistics released by the Department of Transportation indicate that in the 1990s:
- over 90,000 children under the age of 21 died in motor vehicle crashes;
- over 16,500 of those children were under the age of 10;
- over 57,500 young people between the ages of 15 and 20 died in traffic crashes; and
- over 9 million children were injured.
That means that, every week, more than 170 children are killed and another 173,000 are injured on our highways. In 1999, 1,528 children under the age of 10 died in traffic crashes; 50 of them were on Tennessee roadways.
Highway tragedies do not discriminate - Caucasians, Asians, Latinos, African-Americans, and Native Americans are all equally vulnerable. However, statistically, highway fatalities are more prevalent among African-American children. According to a report by Nashville's Meharry Medical College, motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for African-Americans under the age of 20.
Research conducted by Johns Hopkins University's School of Public Health found that the risk of dying in a motor vehicle crash per mile of travel is three times greater for an African-American child, age 5 to 12, than it is for a Caucasian child.
We cannot continue to permit African-American children - or any children - to be injured or killed in preventable crashes, especially when simple solutions are so readily available.
Just recently, in Nashville, Tennessee, three children, ages 18 months, two years, and seven years were killed, along with their parents, when their car struck a pick up truck. According to preliminary information from the Safety Board's investigation of the accident, none of the children were buckled up. This tragedy is repeated all too frequently in our country. Six out of 10 children who die, as passengers in motor vehicle crashes, are not buckled up.
Every child should ride in the back seat and they should be buckled up every time they get in a vehicle. As should every adult. Eighty percent of the time, when an adult buckles up, the children in their car are also buckled up. But, when an adult doesn't buckle up, the child passenger restraint usage rate drops to 20 percent.
Every child should also be placed in a restraint system that is appropriate for their age and size. Seat belts, like air bags, were designed for adults, not children. Children under the age of four should be secured in a child safety seat designed especially for them. And, children between four and eight should be in booster seats that position the lap and shoulder belt properly around their small bodies.
Over time, child safety seats have proven to be more than 70 percent effective in preventing deaths and serious injuries. But, to be effective, they must be used properly. Nine out of 10 parents think they are buckling up their children correctly. But, surveys show otherwise. Eight out of 10 of them make unintentional mistakes that could result in a child being injured or killed in a crash.
That's why child safety seat inspection events, like the one being sponsored here today by the NAACP, the United Auto Workers, General Motors and National Safe Kids, are so important.
Last year, I called upon every automaker, every state, and every other child transport-related organization to establish permanent child safety seat fitting stations in every community. All parents and caregivers must be given the opportunity to ensure that their child is safely secured in their vehicle.
No parent or caregiver should have to wait until after an accident to discover that their child wasn't protected by an ineffective lifesaving device.
I want to thank the local Safe Kids Coalition for dedicating its time to join us here to help the Memphis community make sure that its children are riding safely. I also want to recognize the leadership of the NAACP, the UAW, and GM for their efforts to distribute free child safety seats under the auspices of the NAACP.
It's time to change the safety culture in our communities and on our highways. We must put the safety of every child - African-American, Caucasian, Asian, Latino, Native American - first and we must take the actions necessary to ensure their safety.
We need your help to change the safety culture in the African-American community. Today's a good first step. I have made child passenger safety my first priority. It's time for all of us to put children first and to stop this senseless loss of our children on our highways.
Thank you for being here today. Our future is riding with you. Thank you for helping us protect it.