"Car crashes are the leading cause of death among children in this country," said Fitzgerald, citing statistics indicating that as many as 600 children under the age of five are killed each year in car accidents. "The stories we've heard during the past few months about faulty tires and tragic car crashes remind us how dangerous the road can be, and how important it is to make sure our children are safe when they ride in the car. This important legislation will help ensure that the car seats and booster seats we trust to protect our kids are up to the task."
Fitzgerald's legislation calls on the federal government to modernize its outdated testing methods for child safety seats, expand efforts to protect children in various types of collisions, and close the "child safety gap" that leaves older children unprotected. The measure also calls for new federal regulations to ensure greater protection against head injuries in side-impact collisions, and instructs NHTSA, the federal agency responsible for testing child safety seats, to provide parents with accurate, easy-to-understand information they can use to decide which car seat or booster is best for their children.
Fitzgerald teamed with Senators Blanche Lincoln, an Arkansas Democrat, and Rick Santorum, a Pennsylvania Republican, to propose these reforms, which will help protect children against injuries and death in automobile crashes. Fitzgerald, Lincoln, and Santorum, the three youngest members of the U.S. Senate, are all parents of young children.
"If we have learned anything from the recent tire scandal, it's that we must pay close attention to safety standards and enforcement," said Lincoln. "We've made great strides in injury prevention and travel safety over the last 25 years. It's time to put that knowledge to work for our children. This legislation offers simple, smart solutions toward improving the safety of children when they travel."
"As a father of five small children, I understand first-hand the need to ensure that our children are safe when traveling in automobiles," said Santorum. "Recent transportation safety concerns illustrate the critical need to proactively protect consumers, especially children. This bill offers a common sense approach toward safeguarding our children and giving parents a greater peace of mind."
"As the father of a young boy, I am concerned that NHTSA's crash testing methods and safety standards have not been updated since the 1970s. In many cases, child safety seat standards in the U.S. fall below standards of other countries," Fitzgerald said. "For example, the agency still tests car seats using a test bench from a 1970s-era Chevy Impala. These standards clearly need to be revised to better reflect the vehicles on the road today."
Fitzgerald's bill also urges NHTSA to test some car seats in actual cars instead of in simulators only, and calls on the agency to test child seat performance in a wider range of possible collisions. NHTSA currently tests seats only in head-on collisions, even though side-impact, rear-impact, and rollover collisions account for about half of all child automobile fatalities.
Current child safety seat standards also ignore a significant number of children who, like Fitzgerald's 8-year-old son, have outgrown car seats but may still be too small for regular adult seat belts. These "forgotten children," consequently, may be at greater risk than other passengers. Fitzgerald's legislation requires NHTSA to take steps to close this safety gap as quickly as possible.
The bill also includes an amendment by Commerce Committee Chairman John McCain (R-Arizona) directing the Department of Transportation to develop a consumer outreach plan for encouraging proper booster seat use for young children.
"This bill includes important reforms to improve the safety features and performance of car seats and provide parents with the information they need to choose the best safety seat for their children," Fitzgerald concluded. "I am encouraged by the Commerce Committee's vote today, and I hope the full Senate will pass the bill this year."