WASHINGTON, D.C.—Chairman John D. (Jay) Rockefeller IV (D-W.Va.) today asked U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) Secretary Ray LaHood to do more “to protect children from injury or death in car crashes.”
The letter comes on the heels of news reports suggesting that certain car seats are not adequately regulated for safety.
“Nine years after legislation designed to make this process safer the government is still dithering around with a process that clearly isn’t getting the job done. There’s no excuse for NHTSA’s continuing delays,” Chairman Rockefeller said. “Parents need to know that the federal government prioritizes safety, especially when it comes to children. The safety of our kids should be the top priority.”
Seats marketed to children who weigh more than 65 pounds—a growing part of the car seat market—are not currently held to government safety requirements. Seats for smaller children and infants, meanwhile, are not tested for their effectiveness in side collisions. Rockefeller said these two omissions on the part of DOT are not acceptable.
These problems stem, in part, from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s (NHTSA) failure to complete a crash test dummy that would mimic the motion of a 10-year-old child. The development of this dummy was mandated in 2002, following the passage of Anton’s Law, named in memory of Anton Skeen, a 4-year-old boy who was killed in a rollover crash in Washington State in 1996.
Chairman Rockefeller’s letter to Secretary LaHood follows:
Dear Secretary LaHood,
I read with interest about this month’s announcement by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) of new safety guidelines for child safety seats. I appreciate your Department’s efforts in this area, but I have continuing concerns that more needs to be done to protect children from injury or death in car crashes.
Two years ago, following press accounts that infant car seats had separated from their bases in government crash tests, you ordered a “complete top to bottom review of child safety seat regulations.” Based on press accounts in mid-March highlighting additional safety issues relating to child safety seats, the review conducted by your Department may have been incomplete.
On March 1, 2009, the Chicago Tribune reported that 31 infant car seats had separated from their bases or exceeded government injury limits in NHTSA crash tests. Because the tests were intended to rate the safety of the cars, not the safety of car seats, the troubling results revealed by the Chicago Tribune were not made available to the public.
Your response to the revelations in the press was swift and promising. You pledged a “complete top to bottom review of child safety seat regulations,” and directed NHTSA to make crash test results more available to the public. Two months after you made this statement, you announced that, starting with the 2011 model year, car manufacturers would provide consumers with information about which car seats fit best in their vehicles. You also ordered NHTSA to issue a safety standard for child seats in side impact crashes and to consider improving the existing frontal impact standard.
Given your focus on child safety in 2009, I was surprised to learn this month of additional safety concerns relating to child car seats. A March 14, 2011, story in the Washington Post noted that no regulations exist for child safety seats designed for children who weigh more than 65 pounds. In addition, design flaws have delayed the completion of a crash test dummy that would mimic the motion of a 10 year-old child. In 2002, Congress directed NHTSA to develop this crash test dummy. Nine years after the passage of Anton’s Law, there is simply no excuse for NHTSA’s continuing delays.
I know that you have a strong focus on safety in your time at the Department of Transportation. And the new safety guidelines released by NHTSA this week are a step in the right direction. However, the recent revelations are of real concern to me. Parents need to know that the federal government is prioritizing safety, especially when it comes to children. To this end, I respectfully request that you provide responses to the following questions:
- What steps did the Department take in conducting its complete top to bottom review of the safety of child safety seats? Did this review include the safety of older children who use these seats?
- In your view, what were the most critical findings of the Department’s review?
- What steps has the Department taken so far to resolve the issues discovered in this review? What additional steps does the Department plan to take?
- What steps will the Department take to address the concerns raised this month regarding child safety seats and the protection of older children?
I look forward to a response by April 20, 2011.