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Remarks for the ACTS "Tween" Passenger Safety Press Conference, Washington, DC
Kathryn Higgins
ACTS "Tween" Passenger Safety Press Conference, Washington, DC

It is a pleasure to be here today on behalf of the National Transportation Safety Board. We are here on Valentine’s Day, with a very simple but important message for parents of “Tweens” – “the Back is Where It’s At!!” and “Buckle Up for Every Trip!!”

By following these 2 rules of the road, we can save lives and reduce injuries for children ages 8 through 12. Research data show that a child is three times less likely to be injured in a crash if that child is restrained. Placing the child in the back further reduces the chances for injury.

Ten years ago, 1996, the Safety Board issued the first of two recommendations to protect child passengers. In 1996 we urged the states to mandate that children under 8 travel in child safety seats or booster seats and children 8 and over be restrained. One year later we recommended that all children 12 and under travel in the back.

We have made real progress in the last 10 years reducing the number of children under 8 killed in motor vehicle crashes. Since 1996, there has been a 17 percent decrease in infant and toddler deaths and a 13 percent decrease in deaths among the booster seat age population. But unfortunately fatalities among the “Tweens” have stayed about the same.

Placing children in the back and using restraints have played a role in our success for younger children. Again, ten years ago 1 in 3 infants and toddlers in fatal accidents were riding in the front. In 2004, that number was reduced to 1 in 8. For the “Tween” population, 37 percent of those in fatal accidents were in the front seat in 1996, and in 2004, that number dropped to just 31 percent. I want to direct you to a chart in your packet. We can see the enormous progress we’ve made in moving infants and toddlers to the back. But look at the top line, which is the “tween” line. Not much progress.

Parents took our message seriously and moved their younger children to the back. We have not had the same result for “Tweens.” And a lack of good laws and age-appropriate education are part of the problem. That’s what we need to change.

The states have not made this issue a priority. While 45 states now require all “Tweens” to be restrained, the laws very greatly. It’s not surprising that parents are confused. One state, the State of Washington, requires children 12 and younger both to be in the back seat and buckled up, we clearly have a lot more work to do to bring laws in line with best practice.

And we know that laws matter. Parents look to the law for guidance on how best to protect their children.

We urge all states to follow Washington State’s example: move all “Tweens” to the back and require them to use seat belts.

Parents, you don’t have to wait for legislation to protect your most precious possessions. You can start today. Let your children know just how much you love them. Give them a special Valentine today and every day. Move them to the back seat and help them buckle up! It will protect them and it may just save their lives.