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American Government Special Collections Reference Desk

American Government


November 19, 1998

NHTSA 75-98
Thursday November 19, 1998
Contact: Tim Hurd
Tel. No. (202) 366-9550

Noting that traffic crashes are the leading cause of death to American children of every age from 5 to 16 years old, U.S. Secretary of Transportation Rodney E. Slater today announced a blue ribbon panel of experts charged to identify ways that these forgotten children can be protected while in motor vehicles.

"Safety is President Clinton's number-one priority, and all of us at DOT will continue to work vigilantly to ensure our children are buckled up," Secretary Slater said.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), six out of 10 children who die in passenger vehicle crashes are unbelted. In 1997, an average of seven children under age 15 died and 908 were injured every day in motor vehicle crashes. Gaps in child passenger safety laws often leave children ages 4 to 16 unprotected; only one state, Alaska, requires all children from birth to age 16 to be properly restrained in all seating positions.

"Kids aren't buckling up. Restraint use is actually decreasing as children get older. While restraint use for infants is 85 percent, restraint use for children ages 4 to 16 is only 64 percent. Children are being moved into adult seat belts too soon," NHTSA Administrator Ricardo Martinez, M.D., said.

Philip Haseltine, president of the American Coalition for Traffic Safety, will schedule and moderate the meetings. Participants will include representatives from the auto and child restraint industries; medical, health, law enforcement, safety, and child development organizations; intergovernmental elected officials; state, national, and federal agencies; and a public education advertising agency.

"The issues confronting this panel are not easy to resolve. But, by examining education strategies, legislation and law enforcement issues as well as product design issues related to booster seats and after-market products, we will develop meaningful recommendations to increase the safety of America's children when they are passengers in motor vehicles," Haseltine said.

Findings from a NHTSA telephone survey indicate that only 29 percent of children weighing 40 pounds or more were said to be in booster seats all the time. Most of these children reportedly used seat belts all the time. Because of their size, children do not fit properly into adult belts until they are approximately eight years old and between 60 and 80 pounds. A separate NHTSA study based on actual observations showed that of the children who had outgrown their child safety seat, at about age 4 and 40 pounds, only six percent were in booster seats.

The Blue Ribbon Passenger Safety Panel will also explore problems of gaps in child passenger safety laws that often leave the children in the ages 4 to 16 unprotected. In many states seat belts can be substituted for child restraints, or a 10-year-old can ride legally in the back seat unrestrained because laws apply only to front seat occupants. Many states fail to address the issue of children as passengers in the cargo area of pickup trucks. Other gaps such as exemptions for overcrowded vehicles (car pooling from school), exemptions if the driver is not the child's legal guardian, and exemptions for out-of-state vehicles make it even more difficult to reduce injuries, NHTSA said.

The panel will present its recommendations and strategies for children ages 4 to 16 in the following three areas:

* Marketing and Public Education: Educate parents and care givers on the importance of booster seats and to generate peer programs for increasing seat belt use among older children.
* Legislation and Enforcement: Close gaps in child passenger safety laws and seat belt laws, as these laws often leave children ages 4 to 16 unprotected; encourage high visibility enforcement of child passenger safety laws.
* Product Design and Implications: Improve booster seat design for safety and comfort; develop recommendations for the use of after market products, some of which currently have no safety performance standards for their use yet are designed to improve safety belt fit.


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