U.S. begins automobile safety campaign for children Effort seeks to reduce child deaths in crashes

November 19, 1998|By KNIGHT RIDDER/TRIBUNE

WASHINGTON -- Most of the more than 2,000 children killed each year in car accidents would be alive if the adults who loved them had them buckled up properly.

Most of those killed aren't buckled at all. Even when parents try to do the right thing, they often get it wrong because they use the safety seat the wrong way, use the wrong seat or use adult belts for children who are safer in booster seats.

The federal government intends to change that.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is starting a campaign today to encourage seat belt use and take the mystery out of using child safety seats. The first step is to form a panel of experts to recommend ways to get more children ages 4 to 14 -- those most likely to be improperly restrained -- buckled up.

Next month, NHTSA is to announce a long-awaited rule that will require all new child seats to use a universal attachment that clips easily into a steel frame hidden in a vehicle's rear seat. Currently, 70 models of car seats and 300 car models make properly installing child seats a nightmare, and many pairings just don't work.

The government's action comes as police agencies around the country are gearing up to start a seat belt and child-seat enforcement campaign next week, in time to catch Thanksgiving travelers.

The goal of these steps is to attack the No. 1 killer of children: vehicle crashes. Last year, 2,087 children under 16 were killed in crashes, and six out of 10 of them were not secured in seat belts or child seats. A similar ratio held for the more than 100,000 children who suffered injuries requiring medical attention.

"A primary safety goal is to get children buckled up and to convince parents that buckling up saves lives," said Philip Recht, deputy administrator of NHTSA. "It's irresponsible for adults to not buckle up children. It's not only against the law, it puts your child in a position of great danger."

The federal push mostly preaches to the converted: parents, grandparents, baby sitters and other caregivers who generally use child safety seats and seat belts, if not always perfectly.

"These steps are a good start, but we can't take our eye off the ball -- six out of 10 children killed in crashes are totally unrestrained," said Janet Dewey, director of the Air Bag and Seat Belt Campaign. "As a nation, we have to decide that is totally unacceptable and see that kids are buckled up all the time."

Dewey's nonprofit group, which is funded by automakers, insurers and the federal government, is pushing to increase proper use of restraints.

Pub Date: 11/19/98

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