Safety Archive

An Open Letter to the FAA

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Dear Federal Aviation Administration:

A few weeks ago, I wrote a blog post here about your policies regarding car seat use on planes. Shortly thereafter (purely through coincidence), the National Transportation Safety Board held a forum on Child Passenger Safety in the Air and in Automobiles, during which the NTSB recommended that children under 2 use carseats on planes.

Of course, FAA, this isn’t the first time you’ve heard this recommendation. The NTSB actually requested back in August that you make it a requirement that every passenger –not just those over 2–have a ticket and a seat. In fact, the NTSB has made that request numerous times over the past 20 years, but you have always nixed the idea.

The justification you give is that if parents can’t afford to buy a ticket for Little Billy, they will be forced to drive instead, therefore increasing the child’s risk of injury or death since car travel is so much more dangerous than air travel.

Okay, FAA, in a way you have a point. Vehicle collisions are, after all, the leading cause of accidental death to children, while the number of people killed each year on commercial airlines is miniscule. So why, then, does the FAA require seatbelts for adults?

Let’s examine your argument about people deciding to drive instead of fly.

Sometimes that might be the case. If I want to go to Phoenix from my home in Southern California, I could fly there in an hour or drive there in about eight (six if I don’t stop, but remember, we’re traveling with kids). Either way I could be there by the afternoon if I left early in the morning.

But let’s say I need to get from Miami to Seattle. I could fly there in one day, but driving would take a week. (Google says 54 hours, but again, if you travel with kids you need to make stops. Plus I like sleeping in actual beds.) So that’s two weeks roundtrip. When you add up time off work just to get there and back, plus lodging, gas, and lots of meals along the way, flying would likely be the cheaper and much faster option.

The point is that, yes, some people will choose to drive instead of fly when that’s a realistic option, but many times it’s not.

Also, FAA, if you’re so concerned about children’s safety in cars, you might want to think about what happens to the car seats that parents check in so they can hold Little Tabitha on their laps. Have you seen the way baggage handlers treat luggage? Do you know how many times I’ve heard complaints about car seats being damaged by airlines? A broken or lost seat isn’t going to do much good when the kid gets to his destination. Requiring parents to take the seat onboard insures against loss and damage.

You know what else? Having kids is expensive! There are a lot of costs we just can’t avoid, and if having to buy a ticket for the baby keeps parents from flying, they’ll have to forgo the trip. There are people who can’t or won’t buy proper child restraints for their own cars but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t have laws saying that they must.

FAA, let’s be honest with each other. Your concern for children’s safety in cars is quite benevolent, but I don’t believe for a second that’s your true interest. In fact, I bet you’re in favor of requiring babies to have tickets but feel pressure from the airlines who could lose money if that were the case. If buying a ticket for Baby forces a family to drive, that means that Mom and Dad don’t buy tickets either, and the airline has just lost out on their fares, too.

Don’t be too concerned about the airlines, though. With the way they nickle-and-dime us these days, I’m sure they’ll be able to make up for those couple tickets by selling the seats to someone else at an inflated price and jacking up the checked-bag fee, plus charging $10 to borrow a “blanket.” Really, the airlines will be fine.

The airlines could also build up some goodwill among families by doing a couple pretty simple things, like letting people with car seats preboard. I know their TitaniumAmbassadorFirstPassClub members might not like having to share the plane with a couple of snotty kids for five minutes before the rest of the sardines are packed in, but everyone would be much happier in the end. And it would really help if airline employees were familiar with the FAA’s car seat regulations. Maybe you could send them a memo.

FAA, I don’t mean to sound ungrateful. Your policies regarding traveling with car seats are great, and much better than those of most other countries. But it’s time to set aside the pressure from airlines and do what you’re charged with doing. Your Mission Statement claims, “Safety is our passion. We work so all air and space travelers arrive safely at their destinations.” Start including infants and toddlers in that statement, FAA. If my laptop needs to be secure during takeoff and landing, my child should be, too.

Sincerely,

A Safety-Conscious Mom

Guest Blog: A kindred spirit in Groucho

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While I was busy at a recent carseat check event in Mount Vernon, Washington, my husband wandered down the road to a street fair, locating a little bookstore along his way.  Being an old movie fan, “The Groucho Marx Letters” caught his eye.  The next day, as we drove 900 miles between California and Canada, we found a kindred spirit in Groucho.

TO THE PRESIDENT OF THE CHRYSLER CORPORATION

December 1, 1954

Dear Mr. Colbert:

My mother always told me that if I had anything of importance to discuss, to go to the top.

Each year the motor manufacturers hammer home the idea of more horsepower.  I realize a reasonable amount of power is necessary, but I think it would be much smarter if emphasis were placed on safety rather than on additional speed.  Perhaps the ads next year should read, “prettier, faster and safe.”  I also think that if a device could be installed on the carburetor (I understand there are such things) that would eliminate the belching of carbon monoxide through the city streets, the Chrysler Corporation could create an enormous amount of good will, particularly in big cities where the carbon monoxide problem is especially acute.

Every morning the front page reports of people killed in auto accidents.  A good percentage of these fatalities could be eliminated if the motorist had a reasonable amount of protection.  The average car driver in a modern automobile is a sitting duck.  There is nothing to protect him.  The records show he would be far safer on a battlefield.

Your new cars look good, but the fact of the matter is that all the new cars look good, and I firmly believe that the first automobile company that starts stressing safety instead of speed will win far more than its share of the business.

Sincerely yours,

Groucho Marx

Groucho in a Volvo three-point belt

Groucho in a Volvo three-point belt

Volvo first produced a vehicle with three-point seatbelts in 1959–5 years after Groucho’s letter to Chrysler.  Yet they were not required in all seating positions until 2007–53 years after Groucho’s letter.

Chevrolet first tested airbags in consumer vehicles in 1973, but they were only fitted in government fleet vehicles.  This was almost 20 years after Groucho’s letter.  Passive supplementary restraints were still not required in vehicles for another 15 years on passenger vehicles, and an additional 6 years (21 total) for light trucks.

Honda’s Insight, the first mass-production hybrid vehicle, was first made available in 1999; Or 45 years after Groucho’s letter.

According to the CDC, motor vehicle collisions are the #1 cause of death among individuals aged 1-34.  According to Edmunds.com, “the average car in the U.S. spews out 10,000 pounds of carbon dioxide from its tailpipe each year”.  It’s 2010–56 years since Groucho’s letter to Chrysler.

Sources:

The Library of Congress.  “Grouchy.” The Groucho Letters: Letters from and to Groucho Marx. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1967. 170-71. Print.

To Backless or Not To Backless? That is The Question.

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Statistics are funny things.  Somewhere, there is a study that will support just about anything.  If you have a pre-conceived notion about something, Google will lead you to some research that will validate your thinking.  Of course, that research may have been financed by the same entity that stands to benefit from the conclusions.  Or perhaps it was printed in some fly-by-night publication, rather than a well-respected, peer-reviewed professional journal.  Or maybe it was just some online “white paper” with dubious research.  Other papers seem to bypass the principles of scientific method and tailor the data to support the hypothesis they hoped to prove.  Some admit they don’t have enough data points to make statistically significant conclusions.  Plus, there are flaws and limitations even in the best studies published in respectable scientific journals.  Sometimes, a study conflicts with similar studies and it’s impossible to determine if one is more valid than the other.  In other cases, a newer set of studies compiles more data and uses better methods, making older studies obsolete.

That brings us to the issue of high-back vs. backless boosters.   Many child passenger safety advocates are aware that the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia is one of the foremost research institutions in regards to many traffic safety issues, particularly that of booster use.  Over the years, they have published numerous studies on boosters.  Their results have been used in support of many state laws in that time.  Some technicians and advocates may be aware of their 2005 study that showed that the use of high back boosters may result in a 70% reduction in injury risk compared to backless models in side impacts.  That was a pretty amazing result.  The authors concluded that, “This differential performance of the two types of BPB provides direction for future research into the design and performance of these restraints.”

High back boosters do have some theoretical benefits compared to backless models.  For example, some backless boosters lack an adjustment strap for the shoulder belt.  This type of strap is easily lost or misplaced on models that do include it, whereas high back boosters always have an integrated shoulder belt guide to help keep the seat belt routed correctly.  Also, many high back boosters now have deep wings lined with energy absorbing materials to help protect the head and torso in a side impact.  The same wings may provide more comfort for a sleeping child, too.  A few boosters allow them to be attached to the vehicle with LATCH.  In particular, early research outside the USA with ISOFIX systems may show some benefit to rigid LATCH boosters, especially in side impacts.

Flying with a Car Seat? Know Your Rights!

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When my son was 8 months old we flew from California to Chicago to visit relatives. Although I was not yet a Child Passenger Safety Technician, I understood the importance of using car seats, even on airplanes. So, as a diligent mother, I purchased him a ticket and installed his Britax Wizard rear-facing.

On three of our four flights, we had no problems. On the last one, though, the flight attendant insisted that I turn my son’s seat forward-facing because the passenger in front of him wouldn’t be able to recline. I knew the car seat should stay rear-facing, but with no proof and a plane full of anxious passengers, I acquiesced rather than put up a fight.

If only I had known about the Federal Aviation Administration’s Advisory Circular regarding Use of Child Restraint Systems on Aircraft, things might have been different.

The Advisory Circular, which was just updated a few weeks ago, details the FAA’s policies regarding child restraints on planes, and anyone traveling by aircraft with a child in a car seat would be wise to print out a copy and take it onboard. (Please note that the FAA regulations apply to U.S.-based carriers operating inside or outside of the United States. If you’re flying a foreign airline these guidelines won’t necessarily apply.)

To make things easy for you, the traveling parent, I am going to tell you exactly where to find the pertinent information so you can print out the Circular (like above) and highlight what you might need.