AAA Calls Child Safety Laws Inadequate

January 18, 2008

Thirty years after the enactment of the nation’s first child safety seat law, a new survey shows parents strongly support child safety seats and child seat laws. Yet nearly 100 children under age five die every year in crashes they could have survived if they had been using child safety seats, said AAA in calling for states to close gaps in their child passenger safety laws.

According to a survey released by AAA to coincide with the 30th anniversary of Tennessee’s first-in-the-nation child safety seat law, more than half of all parents (54 percent) look to their state law for guidance on how to restrain their children. While a strong majority (93 percent) of parents surveyed said they are aware of their state’s child restraint laws and most (86 percent) feel that these laws should be consistent across the country, less than half (39 percent) can accurately identify the age at which their state allows a child to ride in an automobile with only a lap and shoulder belt.

“These results send a clear and powerful message to state legislators across the country,” said Robert L. Darbelnet, president and CEO of AAA. “Parents look to the law to provide guidance about when and how their children should be restrained but, in many cases, the laws are letting them down. State laws vary greatly throughout the U.S. and, although every state has a provision for children under age four, just 18 states and the District of Columbia require children up to the age of eight or older to be restrained in a booster seat.”

Darbelnet noted that, “stronger laws and better education will save additional young lives. State legislators can make this happen.”

Three decades later after the first child safety seat law, marked progress in child passenger restraint legislation, improvements in car seat technology and the dedicated work of safety advocates are saving the lives of thousands of children each year in the U.S., including an estimated 392 children younger than five in 2006.

“As child seat technology and legislation have evolved over the last three decades, so, too, have parental attitudes toward child passenger safety,” said Darbelnet. “Today, many parents make it a priority to properly restrain their children when driving because of the proven life-saving benefits of car seats.”

Despite this positive shift in attitudes, more than one-third (35 percent) of children under five who were killed in fatal crashes in 2006 were unrestrained. In total, 145 of the 452 children under age five who died in crashes were unrestrained.

“Most state laws today still fall short of what we know are the best practices, especially for four- to eight-year-old children who should be riding in booster seats,” said Deborah A.P. Hersman, member, National Transportation Safety Board.

When examining how parents learn about their state laws, the survey found that only 31 percent of parents said they learned about them from physicians, while 40 percent cited the government as their source of information. Most parents (80 percent) who responded felt that pediatricians and other physicians should educate parents about child restraint laws and the government (73 percent) should also take a more active role in educating parents.

“AAA honors the efforts of all of those who worked tirelessly to improve child passenger safety standards and increase the use of child safety seats over the last three decades. The traffic safety community, however, must continue to push for stronger, consistent legislation in all states and remain committed to educating the public on the importance of child passenger safety,” concluded Darbelnet.

Source: American Automobile Association

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