Campaign Launched to 'Boost' Car Safety for Kids
Feb. 14, 2000 (Washington) -- Car safety doesn't end for children once they
outgrow a child safety seat. In fact, a booster seat for older children can be
a real lifesaver. Secretary of Transportation Rodney Slater says that though
Americans are generally trying to keep infants secured while traveling in their
vehicles, the same cannot be said for those aged 4 to 8 years old.
"[W]e are putting our older children at unnecessary risk because booster
seat use -- less than 7% -- is so low," said Slater at a Monday news
conference. To promote boosters for those beyond safety seats but still too
small for seat belts, Slater announced a $7.5 million national public awareness
program. The campaign coincides with National Child Passenger Safety Week.
"You have to see it to understand it," said Slater as he
demonstrated the proper technique for securing a group of youthful volunteers
into boosters -- some of whom acknowledged they didn't always ride belted
Called "Don't Skip a Step," the education effort encourages parents
to start with rear-facing seats for infants, then graduate to forward-facing
models, but not to forget boosters for children between 40 and 80 pounds.
According to the Department of Transportation, most state laws only require a
seat belt up to age 3 or 4. Many parents then assume it's OK to restrain a
child in an adult seat belt. "We don't know whether it will take a law or
not. Most parents want to do the right thing, if they know," says Slater.
Buckling up a small child in a seat belt may look deceptively safe, but it
could be a deadly error.
"When children are prematurely graduated to adult safety belts from
child restraint systems, the lap portion of the belt rides up over the abdomen.
This places the child at risk for seat belt syndrome ... because the force of
the crash is transferred to the soft abdomen and not to the hard bones,"
says Flaura Winston, MD, a pediatrician at the University of Pennsylvania
School of Medicine.
Winston also says the shoulder portion of an adult belt won't fit children
less than 4 feet 9 inches tall; thus many will either put the top portion of
the belt behind them, or "submarine" out of the safety device
completely in a crash.
Even though motor vehicle accidents are the leading cause of death for young
children, 30% of them ride without any kind of safety restraint, according to
the National Safe Kids Campaign. Winston says she's also concerned that of
those who are in seats or belts, only about half are properly restrained. It's
not clear how many lives booster use might save, but Winston is currently
looking for the answer in a study. About 600 infants per year die in U.S. car
crashes, according to one national child safety organization.
Slater says the cost of the booster seats -- ranging from $20 to $80 --
probably isn't a major reason they're not being used. "We think it's more
education than economics, but where it's economics as well, we've got the kind
of partnership that will help us address that issue," he says.
Education may also be an issue for physicians who need to talk with parents
about how best to protect children on the road. "It's long been the
American Academy of Pediatrics' position that children in this age group needed
to be in booster seats," says Winston.