It is truly a pleasure to be here today. Just three months ago, I shared the stage with DaimlerChrysler when we introduced Fit for a Kid. It's exciting to see the program now come to fruition here.
We've come a long way in a short amount of time. Just last January, the National Transportation Safety Board recommended that the states, the federal government, automobile manufacturers, and child restraint manufacturers establish multiple permanent locations - or fitting stations - where parents could go at their convenience to have their child safety seat checked. DaimlerChrysler accepted our challenge and moved quickly to bring this important service to its customers. I am pleased that DaimlerChrysler has taken this action because both the company knows and we know that kids' lives can depend on it.
Traffic crashes are the leading cause of death in this country for young children. All American parents and caregivers should know that since 1990, over 72,000 children under the age of 20 have died in motor vehicle crashes.
All American parents and caregivers should know that nearly 14,000 of those children were under the age of 10. What that means is that 33 children under the age of ten are dying every day in motor vehicle crashes.
Again let me repeat, traffic crashes are the leading cause of death in this country for young children.
Furthermore, observational surveys and reports from car seat check-up events routinely show that over 80 percent of child safety seats are misused. Unfortunately, most parents don't know the seats are improperly installed until after a crash in which their child is killed or injured. Properly used, child safety seats and seat belts are among the most effective safety equipment in a vehicle, and they can cut the number of deaths and injuries in half. But to save lives, they have to be used and they have to be used properly.
In 1996, the National Transportation Safety Board completed a comprehensive study on child passenger safety. We found that:
- Over half of the parents or caregivers in our sample who reported that they had read the child restraint manufacturer's instructions or vehicle owner's manual, or both, still made errors in buckling their children into the restraint or the restraint seat into the vehicle.
- And, more than two-thirds of the children in our study were in the wrong restraint for their age, height and weight. We found that children were in restraint systems too advanced for their size. For example, many were moved from a child safety seat to a seat belt rather than into a booster seat.
Well-intentioned parents and caregivers are attempting to do the right thing for their children, but they are presented with a very complex challenge:
- Finding a restraint that is compatible with the car;
- Making sure it is right for the child; and
- Assuring the safety seat and child are snug.
Many individuals and organizations across America have done valuable work to address this challenge in the past several years. But taken together, these efforts were not enough to meet the need.
That is why it is so gratifying to be here today, just nine months after the Safety Board's call to action, to help DaimlerChrysler launch Fit for a Kid here. This is an enormous undertaking-far greater than we ever imagined. DaimlerChrysler's commitment demonstrates what can be accomplished when the private sector brings its power and prestige to solve a problem.
I've said this before and I'll say it again - DaimlerChrysler has set a new standard for child passenger safety for the entire auto industry worldwide. I urge other auto manufacturers to follow suit by responding as positively to our safety recommendation as DaimlerChrysler has. If they do, we won't have a child restraint misuse problem, our children will be safer, and lives that may have been tragically lost will be saved.