- The Washington Times - Friday, June 9, 2000

Upward of 85 percent of children's safety seats are improperly installed in motor vehicles, sharply reducing the safety seats' effectiveness in preventing injuries to children in car crashes, according to the National Safe Kids Campaign (NSKC).

Even more shocking is the fact that 40 percent of children ride unrestrained in cars and trucks. Those disturbing statistics contribute to the tragic toll of 1,800 U.S. children, ages 14 and under, killed in auto accidents annually. Another 280,000 are injured.

That's why the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the auto industry are teaming up in an effort to depose vehicle accidents as the leading killer of young children. NHTSA has enacted a new safety standard mandating uniform anchorage points for securing child seats in vehicles, including permanent bottom and top anchors designed to make it virtually impossible to install a seat incorrectly. The bottom anchors must attach to a bar running across the back of the rear seat.

Carmakers have started a massive education campaign to teach parents how to properly install children's car seats. Dealer personnel have been trained to inspect the effectiveness of child seats and to show parents the correct way to install the seats. What's more, the carmakers offer this service to all parents, regardless of the brand of car the parents drive.

Detroit is lending or contributing millions of approved children's safety seats to needy families in an effort to reduce the number of children who travel unrestrained in vehicles. Government and carmaker safety programs have also put major emphasis on teaching parents that children ages 4-8 need booster seats after they get too big for conventional children's seats.

Since 1997, GM has invested $18.7 million in multiple campaigns to promote effective child safety seat usage. GM's Chevrolet Division has launched a fleet of 51 minivans one for each state and the District of Columbia staffed with experts who inspect children's car seats and teach parents the way to install them.

For minivan owners, GM dealerships holds clinics at malls and day care centers. In addition, GM has trained 1,800 persons to inspect car seats and provide installation instructions at 2,100 dealerships. Another 4,800 volunteers from the NSKC are being trained to assist with the inspections. Get a list of local checkups by accessing www.safekids.org on the Internet.

GM will install top tether anchors in new cars coming on the market this fall, and the GM fix will allow parents to secure seats more firmly in cars. But the giant carmaker is already satisfying parents who desire this feature by retrofitting top tethers to anchor child seats on existing cars.

GM's program is supported by the United Auto Workers. The UAW has committed $5 million to fund a program run by Gen. Colin Powell's America's Promise, which provides free child car seats to low-income black and Hispanic families.

Chrysler's Fit For A Kid program provides free children's car seat inspections. Chrysler is spending $10 million on this program and its dealers are spending another $5 million. About 500 Chrysler dealers are now performing the inspections, and that number will soar to 1,000 by year's end. Working with the National Safety Council and Fisher Price, a maker of children's car seats, Chrysler dealers are also donating seats to poor families.

In April, Ford kicked off a program it calls Boost America that focuses on 4- to 8-year-olds. These children are too big for child safety seats and too small for adult safety belts. Therefore, many of the children in this age bracket ride without any protection, causing more than 500 deaths per year. Ford promises to help rectify this situation by putting 1 million booster seats into cars during the first year of its campaign. Ford will donate the seats regardless of what car parents drive.

Ford's Volvo subsidiary will soon introduce a unique Isofix rear-facing child seat that conforms to NHTSA's new standard calling for uniform top and bottom anchors on child safety seats. Isofix is designed to accommodate children weighing up to 40 pounds. It's actually two seats in one: in the first mode, the Isofix restrains children up to 9 months old. Using the same frame, Isofix becomes a seat for children from 9 months to 3 years of age.

Volvo recommends a booster seat for children weighing more than 40 pounds. What's best about the Isofix is that it attaches to two metal holders that secure the bottom of the seat. It is not possible to install the seat without sliding the bottom seat bars into the metal holders.

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