July 21, 2005
Integrated Car Seats Are Best Solution to Improve Child Safety in Vehicles: “Freakonomics” Author Stephen J. Dubner Clarifies New York Times Column on Today Show by Backing Use of Car Seats, Need for Integrated Seats
Statement of Joan Claybrook, President, Public Citizen
Appearing on this morning’s “Today Show,” Stephen J. Dubner, co-author of the bestseller “Freakonomics,” clarified his July 10 column in the New York Times Magazine, in which he and co-author, Steven D. Levitt, claimed that safety belts were no less protective than car seats for children above the age of 2. This morning, Dubner told parents that the best way to protect their kids was not to get rid of car seats, which would violate the law in all 50 states, but to urge government and industry to work harder on developing integrated car seats and adaptable safety belts for kids.
Dubner also conceded this morning that the crash test simulations described in his column failed to measure crash impacts on a child’s neck or abdomen due to limitations in child dummies. Researchers in this area have pointed out in a number of studies that show neck and abdominal injuries are the core factors for distinguishing between the effectiveness of safety belts and car seats for children in a crash.
Many seminal scientific studies show that car seats are better at saving kids’ lives and preventing injuries than safety belts. One prominent 2003 study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that the odds of injury were 59 percent lower for children aged 4 to 7 in belt-positioning booster seats than in safety belts. Children in belt-positioning booster seats had no injuries to the abdomen, neck or spine – yet those in safety belts alone had injuries to all body regions.
Data on car seat efficacy may also be problematic because studies show that 80 percent of car seats are improperly installed. One solution is to better fund educational efforts for parents. Another key solution is to push forward on a long-neglected area highlighted in a 2003 report by Public Citizen, The Forgotten Child: The Failure of Motor Vehicle Manufacturers to Protect 4- to 8-Year Olds in Crashes. In that report we called for the installation of integrated seats for children that could provide improved safety for ages 2-8.
Integrated seats are superior because they are is simpler to operate, cost-effective for consumers, and because they can be crash-tested with the vehicle to observe and improve safety results. As Dubner noted, they would be a “more practical way of making a child safe.”
Public Citizen applauds Dubner and Levitt for provoking this important discussion, for urging parents to use car seats, and for raising awareness of the urgent and overdue need for integrated car seats and adaptable seat belts. Their efforts have again highlighted the need for integrated solutions to make vehicle design far safer for some of their most valued occupants – children.