Good morning. My name is Marion Blakey and I am Chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board. I am honored to have this opportunity to join you in the kickoff of Child Passenger Safety Week. On behalf of the NTSB, it is my pleasure to thank everyone at the National Safe Kids Campaign for their hard work and unyielding commitment to child safety.
As you may know, last Friday night five people were killed on the Washington Beltway when an SUV, operated by a driver using a cell phone, went out of control, crossed the median, and crashed head-on into an oncoming minivan. A third car driven by a mother who had an eleven-week-old baby and a three-year-old child in the back seat collided with the SUV and minivan.
The driver of the SUV and the four occupants of the minivan were killed. The mother and her two children were the only survivors. Even more remarkable, none were injured - - Both children were in safety seats, and the mother was buckled up.
I've asked the family who survived last week's horrible Beltway crash to join us today. I am happy to recognize Ms. Anissa Obasi (Obossee), her son Noah and daughter Imani (Ee-monee). Ms. Obasi's mother, Clara Sheron (Sher-ron) is also with us. Thank you for allowing us to share your story.
The Obasi (Obossee) family's experience will always remind us of the incalculable value of advancing child passenger safety.
Ladies and gentleman, I cannot imagine a more powerful reason to provide families and caregivers with the education and resources necessary to ensure that children are properly restrained in motor vehicles. Indeed, we must aggressively pursue stronger child restraint laws in our states. I am confident this is a commitment shared by all in this room.
Safe Kids' latest survey provides a checkpoint on the road to achieving greater safety for our children. It shows us how far we have come and, more importantly, how far we have yet to go. It is clear - - we still have a lot of work to do.
Far too many children will die in car crashes this year - - and each one unnecessary. In many cases, children will die because they are not properly restrained or they are not restrained at all.
Briefly, let me cite some facts that demonstrate the challenge we face:
- Two years ago, the Safety Board discovered that about 10 million children were traveling in misused safety seats every day.
- As the Safe Kids survey found, an unbelievable 14 percent of children travel completely unrestrained.
- Nearly 2,000 children under the age of 15 were killed in motor vehicle crashes in the year 2000, the last year that current figures are available.
- Finally, while almost all parents think they have installed their child's safety seat correctly, 80% have not.
With the start of Child Passenger Safety Week, we must renew our commitment and energy to reduce these chilling numbers to zero.
At the NTSB, we have made child passenger safety a top priority. In fact, we put child occupant protection among the top of our list of the ten most-wanted transportation safety improvements.
Three years ago, the Safety Board recommended the establishment of fitting stations where parents could have their child restraints checked. Today these fitting stations are in every State.
The auto industry, in particular, responded strongly to the Board's request, even to the point that I might characterize it as "friendly competition" among those in the industry. As the industry has recognized, the scope our work requires a combined effort. GM's Safe Kids Buckle up program, DaimlerChrysler's Fit For A Kid and Ford's Boost America are all are achieving substantial results.
You are making a difference. I especially want to ask the industry to remember this during a time of economic uncertainty and vulnerability. We are all aware that car manufacturers are operating in very difficult economic times. For this reason, programs like the ones I mentioned could be vulnerable to budget cuts.
But, now is not the time to question the value of child safety programs. I am certain there is no doubt among us - - a child's life is priceless. If anyone should question the value of these programs, I would simply refer them to the family that has joined us today.
That is why it is particularly heartening, to see this renewed commitment by the UAW and GM. Thanks to the additional $8 million dollars that will be provided by the UAW/GM partnership, we're going to have 30 new permanent fitting stations and 30 new mobile child passenger safety checkup vans.
I applaud both the UAW and GM for this superb effort. It's a great example of industry and labor cooperating for a worthy cause. It is corporate citizenship at its best, and I fully expect other manufacturers will follow your example and renew their commitments.
Together our long term goal should be to have every child properly restrained while riding in a motor vehicle. Certainly, if every child was in the right restraint, and if every restraint was installed and used properly, hundreds of young lives would be saved every year.
Our pursuit of this goal should continue to have two components - - Education and tougher law enforcement.
Education is critical. Parents want to do the right thing and most are trying. But mistakes are made. We know from experience that one of the best ways to protect children is to get parents to visit special child safety seat fitting stations where they can learn how to properly install child safety seats.
Of course, education alone will not get us to the goal - - we need strong child safety laws and law enforcement. The Board has made a series of recommendations to the States on this issue. And Safe Kids is leading the way, with a five-year campaign to bring state laws up to standard.
We at the NTSB are proud to support the fine work of the National Safe Kids Campaign, its volunteer coalitions all across the nation and the UAW/GM Buckle Up program.
While we may never reach our goal of having every child properly restrained, I ask that those in this room not rest in their efforts. We know that we can educate more parents and caregivers, that we can improve legislation and enforcement, and therefore that we can increase the protection provided for many thousands of children.
Just think of the profound effect of saving hundreds of children and the potential of each young life to change our world. Who knows, perhaps little Noah will one day win a Nobel Prize for developing a cure for a terrible disease. Or perhaps Imani will become the leader of a Fortune 500 company? Who knows? But I'm certain their mother Anissa and grandmother Clara will enjoy every minute as they grow. And that is the potential reward of the work we do.
Now that is a goal well worth pursuing.