Federal rule to simplify child-safety seats New 'universal system' will be required by 1999


WASHINGTON -- Child-safety seats will be made simpler to install in cars under a new federal rule President Clinton will announce today.

In his weekly radio address, Clinton plans to say that all new passenger cars, vans and trucks will be required to have a new "universal system" for installing child-safety seats by 1999.

The seats are proven life-savers. Studies show they cut the risk of death or serious injury to infants in car crashes by 70 percent and cut in half the fatality and injury rates of children ages 1 to 4.

Some 350 preschool children were killed in 1995 traffic accidents.

The problem is that parents don't put children into the seats 40 percent of the time, studies show.

Even when they are in the seats, 80 percent of the time they are not fully secured or the seats are improperly attached.

White House Press Secretary Mike McCurry -- father of three small children -- spoke from personal experience yesterday on why that happens so often.

"The problem with car seats is that you never know how to get the little thingy in through the back and get it stuck into the little deal that goes in the side," McCurry told the White House press corps at his daily briefing, provoking laughter.

"And then you have to take it out, and you never know whether it's plugged in or not," he added. "And then your kid goes flying over when you go turning too fast to the right. [Laughter.] And, you know, everything goes over, and the juice bottle goes all over the place, and the -- you know, it's a mess. So we're going to fix it."

To fix it, the Department of Transportation will issue a rule next week requiring every car safety seat to have two standard buckles at its base. Every car would also be equipped with standard latches in the back seat designed to fasten to those buckles. Similar universal attachments would be required to secure the seats at the top as well.

The change is expected to drive up the price of safety seats by $15-$20. The seats now sell for anywhere from $45 to $125. There are about 50 models.

The DOT rule is the product of a panel of experts from the auto industry, safety-belt manufacturers and safety advocates that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration organized two years ago. A competing model safety-seat restraint is popular in Europe, but the NHTSA review panel rejected it as heavy, difficult to use and too expensive.

After a public-comment period expected to last 90 days, the rule will be adopted to take effect in two years.

Pub Date: 2/15/97

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