Public Citizen Urges Congress to Improve Vehicle Safety for Children

Feb. 28, 2007

Public Citizen Urges Congress to Improve Vehicle Safety for Children

Testimony of Public Citizen President Joan Claybrook Details Auto Safety Changes Essential to Protecting America’s Youth

WASHINGTON, D.C. – While motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for children from the ages of 3 to 14 in the United States, the government has failed to enact safety standards and gather child safety information to adequately protect them, according to testimony by Public Citizen President Joan Claybrook before a Senate subcommittee today.

Claybrook testified before the Senate Consumer Affairs, Insurance, and Automotive Safety Subcommittee – a subcommittee of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science & Transportation – about improving efforts to protect children from vehicle-related injury.

With the Cameron Gulbransen Kids and Cars Safety Act of 2007 pending in the U.S. Senate and U.S. House of Representatives, Claybrook criticized the current lack of child safety information available to policy makers and the public, and the insufficiency of current vehicle safety standards in general and in regard to children. Claybrook’s testimony addressed the risks children face inside the vehicle, outside the vehicle and those they face in school buses.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reported that in 2005, 1,946 children were killed and 234,000 children were injured in motor vehicle crashes. Among the gaps in child safety in vehicle safety standards, Claybrook identified side impact crashes, rollover crashes and collapsing seat backs as particularly dangerous for children as well as adults. She also spoke about the need for greater safety standards and consumer information for child restraints, including making mandatory the installation of built-in restraints.

Until mandated by Congress to do so in 2005, NHTSA had not recorded non-traffic related incidents, making this data unavailable for policy makers in state and federal safety databases. In the absence of government data collection, KIDS AND CARS, a national nonprofit safety organization, maintains a database of child fatalities from information in newspapers and other public sources of motor vehicle events other than crashes on the nation’s roadways.

“These non-traffic motor vehicle related events – which include children being backed over by vehicles, being inadvertently left in hot vehicles, being strangled by power windows and setting cars in motion when left unattended in a vehicle – killed at least 226 children in 2005 alone,” said Claybrook, while indicating that the numbers could be much higher because of the lack of NHTSA data collection.

Claybrook urged Congress to require improving drivers’ ability to see children obscured by blind spots particularly associated with light trucks and SUVs. A NHTSA study found that camera-based detection systems were much more effective than sensor-based systems at helping drivers detect child pedestrians behind their vehicles. The Cameron Gulbransen Kids and Cars Safety Act of 2007 would require a performance standard for rear visibility to help end the widespread tragedy of backovers, but Claybrook also urged a more general visibility standard to address other forms of crashes.

Claybrook also urged Congress to require NHTSA to pass comprehensive federal standards for school buses that will protect children in all crash modes and require the installation of appropriately designed restraint systems in school buses. In the past, the agency has refused to provide guidance on school bus safety, which has resulted in a hodgepodge, state-by-state set of rules.

In concluding, Claybrook stressed the need for funds for testing and analysis of child dummies and the development of performance tests for needed safety standards. She called for specific mandates and clear deadlines for NHTSA to make the issuance of new or improved standards a real priority, and the need to shield the agency from the political interventions of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) in the White House Office of Management and Budget.

Last year the White House nominated Susan Dudley, an anti-regulatory extremist from the industry-funded Mercatus Center, to head OIRA, but the Senate declined to act on the nomination. Dudley has been no friend to motor vehicle safety, and even opposed advanced air bag standards, using the argument that if consumers truly valued air bag protections they would have already compelled auto makers to install them. President Bush renominated Dudley in January.

 

Claybrook urged senators not to dismiss preventable childhood death and injury from motor vehicles simply as a factor of parental neglect, but to hold industry accountable for safer designs.

“As NHTSA and manufacturers continue their pattern of neglect, then we must turn to Congress to make sure children are protected,” said Claybrook.

To read Claybrook’s testimony, click here.

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