Great strides have been made in recent years in protecting child passengers. Among infants and toddlers, restraint use is at the highest levels ever recorded (98 percent for infants and 93 percent for toddlers), and crash-related child fatalities have dropped steadily to the lowest number since record keeping began in 1975.
Unfortunately, similar progress has not been achieved where older-child passengers are concerned. Booster seat use -- estimated at only 10 to 20 percent nationwide -- remains unacceptably low. According to NHTSA’s Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS), in 2003 there were 331 fatalities among child passengers age 4 to 8 (a 4 percent increase from 2002) as well as 53,000 injuries in this age group. Only 73 percent of children 4 to 8 were restrained in 2004, a 10 percent drop since 2002, according to NHTSA’s National Occupant Protection Usage Survey (NOPUS). In addition, among child passengers 8 to 15, there were nearly 1,100 fatalities and 153,000 injuries in 2003.
In the TREAD Act and Anton’s Law, NHTSA was directed to conduct a range of initiatives, including rulemaking, compliance testing, and consumer education programs, to enhance the safety of older-child passengers. These actions and recent research have spurred legislatures, the private sector, national not-for-profit organizations, parents and caregivers to make booster seat use a greater priority. To date, for example, 33 States and the District of Columbia have enacted mandatory booster seat use provisions in their State child restraint laws. Much more must be done, however, to ensure the safety of older-child passengers.
TREAD Act Provides Program Direction
On November 1, 2000, Congress enacted the Transportation Recall Enhancement, Accountability, and Documentation (TREAD) Act, Public Law 106-414, which contains provisions on improving the performance of child restraints.
Under Section 14(i) of the Act -- "Improving the Safety of Child Restraints – Booster Seat Education Program” -- the Secretary of Transportation was directed to develop within one year of the date of the enactment of the act a five-year strategic plan to reduce deaths and injuries caused by failure to use the appropriate booster seat in the 4- to 8-year-old age group by 25 percent.
NHTSA, as the designated agency of the Department of Transportation, developed a national strategy to satisfy this requirement.
The strategic plan, formally submitted to Congress in the spring of 2002, was developed with the input received in public meetings and written comments from organizations and citizens from across the country. The plan provided a blueprint for decreasing the number of children who ride unrestrained and for increasing the use of booster seats.
To provide a context for increased activities, the plan highlighted the broad base of support for child passenger safety that exists across the country. NHTSA's public and private sector partners have incorporated messages and best practices information about the lifesaving benefits of booster seats throughout their wide-ranging child passenger safety programming and communications activities. States and communities have received funding for some of these programs and activities through a number of highway safety grants funded under the Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century (TEA-21).
NHTSA determined that for a number of reasons, the 25 percent fatality reduction goal contained in the TREAD Act was not practicable, and submitted a number of reformulated goals designed to measure similar lifesaving impact.
The framework of the strategic plan is modeled on NHTSA's Buckle Up America (BUA) campaign, which has been extremely successful in increasing the use of child safety seats and reducing fatalities and injuries among children from birth through 4 years of age. The core elements of the BUA campaign are public-private partnerships; enactment of strong laws; high-visibility law enforcement activities; and effective public education programs.
The plan contains specific activities that individuals representing a variety of public and private sector organizations can undertake. These activities range from the conduct of public information and awareness programs about restraint use and booster seats, to the upgrading of child passenger safety laws.
They address the need for training, technical assistance, and outreach, as well as the need for enforcement and resource allocation in support of child occupant restraint use.
Specific activities are identified for groups in the following categories: