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Making Cars Safe for Kids

Gilbert & Ollanik attorneys’ Stuart Ollanik and Paul Komyatte recently published an article in TRIAL magazine titled “Making Cars Safe for Kids”. The following is a brief excerpt of their article:
Our society claims to value its children above all else, but fails to protect the, from an epidemic of automobile related deaths and injuries. Auto makers claim that they do the same. But the record – uncovered in lawsuits brought by lawyers for injured consumer across the country – tells another story. Children have not come first, or even second or third. When it comes to auto safety, our children have been an afterthought.
Some may say such an initiative is underway, and indeed it is for one side of the child safety coin: consumer behavior. Seatbelt use rates have multiplied in the past two decades. Laws requiring belt use have been effective, as have laws requiring child seats and, more recently, booster seats for children who have outgrown their child seats. Older children are wearing seatbelts more often. Graduated driver’s license requirements – that impose restrictions on young new drivers driving at night with other young people – have been reversing the prior trend of ever-increasing teen driver caused deaths and injuries
But people can only do so much. To protect against collision injuries, we need state laws requiring booster seats for children up to 80 pounds. We need enforcement of laws on restraining children in cars, and we need those laws to permit primary enforcement – that is, to allow driver’s to be stopped and ticketed solely for failure to have their children in proper restraints. We need uniform, simplified educational materials to provide to public health departments and private healthcare providers for distribution. These materials should address selection of child safety seats appropriate to the child’s size, proper use of seat belts, the dangers of lap-only belts, proper posture for children in seatbelts, the need for top tethers for child seats, and proper installation instructions.
Auto makers have responsibility in this area, too. Safety window switches, trunk releases, brake shift interlocks, and backup sensors and cameras are common sense devices that can prevent tragedy every day of the year. We need research on injury values for child dummies, and crash test requirements for the full range of dummies. We need fit and performance standards for seat belts for children, including testing and injury criteria for four to eight year olds that must be achieved with and without booster seats. We need stringent restraint requirements that will result in safer designs eliminating delayed restraint and incorporating pretensioners and web clamps. We need to either require or provide incentives for inclusion of the safest form of child restraints, integrated child seats.
In a nutshell, what is needed is a conscious choice to put children first, as we as a society claim to do. We need statutes and regulations mandating such choices by vehicle operators and manufacturers. And we need a different design ethic. Documents uncovered in litigation show that engineers have recognized and urged use of all the solutions recommended here for many years – even decades. We need management at the leading auto manufacturers to step up to the plate and see that their engineers’ efforts to protect children are implemented, and to see that our vehicles provide the safety our children deserve.