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Study of Built-in Child Safety Seats is First Step in Closing Safety Gap

July 30, 2002

Study of Built-in Child Safety Seats is First Step in Closing Safety Gap

Statement by Public Citizen President Joan Claybrook

The Senate Appropriations Committee has taken an important step to protect young children in automobile crashes by requiring the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to compare the benefits of built-in child restraints to those of adult lap and shoulder belts or ill-fitting booster seats. Children between the ages of 4 and 8 have for too long been unnecessarily vulnerable in crashes ? too large for traditional booster seats and too small for adult seatbelts.

We applaud the Senate Appropriations Committee for providing funding for this essential study to begin to close this safety gap. We also very much appreciate the work of Autumn Skeen, Dr. Martha Bidez and Beth Ebel who wrote letters to Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) promoting Anton?s law, a federal child safety measure. Since Skeen?s 4-year-old son Anton died in a rollover crash in 1996, she has been a tireless advocate for child safety.

Poorly fitting restraints and a lack of federal regulations led to hundreds of deaths and thousands of injuries in the past decade that should not have occurred. In the 1990s, the number of children aged 4 to 8 who were killed while wearing adult safety belts or booster seats that were not designed to fit them nearly doubled, according to a federal study, while the number of fatalities for children under age 4 ? restrained in booster seats that did fit and are regulated by the federal government ? went down. We first raised this issue in a report this spring, The Forgotten Child: The Failure of Motor Vehicle Manufacturers to Protect 4- to 8-year-olds in Crashes.

The comprehensive study of restraint systems must address the safety and fit for the child, vehicle compatibility with different makes and models, and ease of use. Any safety standard that results from this study must apply child ? not adult ? injury criteria for all forms of child safety seats in all types of crashes.

This federal study is a step forward, but the end result must be the mandatory installation of integrated child seating systems, with five-point belts, in all new cars. Auto manufacturers have acknowledged that these are the safest restraint systems. Every child should have that protection.