We’ve heard the reasons before – my child wanted to be held, the seatbelt was uncomfortable, I was only going a short distance, he’s too big for a car seat. While parents’ hearts and minds may struggle with this safety issue, with very few exceptions, they want the best for their children. While technology and equipment have greatly improved in the past decade, motor vehicle accidents are still the leading cause of death for children ages three to fourteen. Whether through error, negligence or defect, our children are put at risk on the roads everyday. Strides are being made, however statistics from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) show a 25 percent drop in vehicle crash fatalities for children under the age of 5 from 1997 to 2006. NHTSA’s Child Passenger Safety Week, September 21-27, 2008 serves to educate, train, and enforce the laws and guidelines of child restraint in vehicles. As a legal community, we can encourage positive change, and should strive to uphold and enforce the highest standards for the protection of our youngest passengers.
While technology and equipment have greatly improved in the past decade, motor vehicle accidents are still the leading cause of death for children ages three to fourteen.
Studies show that child safety seats are very effective at protecting children, and in fact, can reduce the risk of death and injuries by 71%.However, the problem remains that approximately 73% of child safety seats are not installed or used properly. Additionally, half of the children killed in car accidents were completely unrestrained. A correctly used car seat can be the difference between life and death in the event of a crash.
Through continued public education, it is our hope that automotive-related fatalities involving children will continue to decrease, but the industry must also act. Manufacturers have a responsibility to create safe products, especially knowing that consumers don’t always understand the risks, follow directions or read warning labels. Knowing this, manufacturers must identify foreseeable uses and misuses during the design process and take steps to address any safety issues. Consumers also have to take personal responsibility and read the product instructions, be conscious of safety issues, and stay abreast of recalls by registering their purchase and periodically checking for notices on websites such as www.recalls.gov.
When it comes to children, dangers can also lurk in and around cars even when they are not in motion. At least four young children are killed in non-traffic automobile incidents every week. Almost daily, children tragically die after being backed over in their own driveway, from heat exposure after being left unattended in cars, or from suffocation after being trapped in a trunk. Accidents such as these are heart-wrenching – but also preventable.
As attorneys, we must continue to be vigilant. We must encourage and promote safe practices when confronted with issues during our representation of clients. It goes without saying that children are our most precious cargo, and we as parents, safety advocates, and legal counselors have the unique ability to make a difference in their safety. When it comes to children, the continued pursuit of legal recourse when safety issues are not addressed may be the most expeditious route to better designs in automotive safety.