Child Passenger Safety Guidelines Lag as Self-Driving Cars Move Closer to Market

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Who Is Watching the Kids in Autonomous Vehicles?

Self-driving cars, or automated vehicles (AVs), are currently being tested on U.S. roads, yet, according to safety advocates working to protect children in AVs, more needs to be done to address the unique safety needs of children. To help ensure that those needs are prioritized, today, Safe Kids Worldwide announced a new set of resources from its Children in Automated Vehicles Consortium and is calling on the safety community of advocates, manufacturers, policy makers, engineers, and regulators to collaborate to protect children in AVs.

The Consortium, comprised of a diverse group of innovative safety professionals, developed a new toolkit at www.safekids.org/AVs, which includes several resources, including a model law and advocacy resources to help safety leaders put the following recommendations into action:

  • Consider children every time vehicle regulations are amended for automated technologies, including updating National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s position papers and rulemaking processes;
  • Enact legislation that establishes whether or not children may travel alone in AVs with a clear set of qualifying conditions, such as a minimum child age and effective monitoring/communication systems to alert parents or caregivers;
  • Enact legislation that clarifies who is responsible for children when there is no human driver;
  • Update crash data collection and reporting guidelines and tools to capture child data in AVs;
  • Train and educate on-scene first responders and law enforcement on child passengers in AVs.

“This is an exciting time in the development of automated vehicles and those of us in child passenger safety have an unprecedented opportunity to come together to ensure the protection of our most precious cargo: children,” said Torine Creppy, president of Safe Kids Worldwide. “We need safety advocates working together with policy makers, regulators, and engineers now, during the development and testing phase of AVs – to make sure that child passenger safety is not only considered but is one of the top priorities when it comes to developing this new technology.”

Historically, many children have been injured or killed when new vehicle technologies were introduced but were not intentionally designed or regulated for child passengers, such as when front-seat air bags were introduced in the 1990s. Further tragedies were avoided only after a nationwide campaign urged families and drivers to properly restrain all children under 13 in a back seat.

“We can’t let what happened with airbags happen with automated vehicles,” said Joseph Colella, chair of the Consortium’s Education Working Group and Director of Child Passenger Safety for the Juvenile Products Manufacturers Association. “Based on lessons learned, we need to be certain that AV developers, vehicle and car seat manufacturers, regulators and safety advocates are prioritizing child safety while AVs are being developed.”

The past decade of ride-sharing is another example of how policies have lagged behind consumer technologies. In the U.S., many state laws do not clearly identify who is responsible for providing a child restraint or for their proper use in ride-sharing vehicles. Despite the emergence of ride-sharing and ride-sourcing apps, these ambiguities in state laws increase risk, and lead to confusion among the public and challenges to law enforcement.

“It is clear that children need to be considered when we’re designing AVs, when we’re testing AVs, and when we’re coming up with policies for AVs,” said Kristy Brinker Brouwer, chair of the Consortium’s Policy Working Group and Professor of the Practice of Mechanical Engineering at Kettering University. “As laws evolve to allow AVs to be tested on public roads, we have an historic opportunity to learn from our past successes and previous unintended consequences so we can keep our most vulnerable passengers safe when it comes to this emerging form of transportation.”

About the Children in Automated Vehicles Consortium

In 2019, Safe Kids Worldwide convened a Consortium of pioneers to lead the way in a joint effort to protect children under 13 in AVs. This group of innovative professionals includes researchers, vehicle- and child-restraint manufacturers, law enforcement officers, consumer advocacy groups, communications experts, EMS and fire safety professionals, an attorney and public health organizations working in the U.S, Australia, and Europe. A full list of Consortium members is available here.

About Safe Kids Worldwide

Safe Kids Worldwide is a nonprofit organization working to protect kids from preventable injuries, the number one cause of death for children in the United States. Safe Kids works with an extensive network of more than 400 coalitions in the U.S. and with partners in more than 30 countries to reduce traffic injuries, drownings, poisonings and more. Safe Kids and General Motors created the Buckle Up program in 1997 to protect children and teens in and around cars. Since its inception, the Buckle Up program has grown into the most comprehensive child passenger safety program in the nation.

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