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Most Wanted List Press Conference: State Issues - Chairman's Opening and Closing remarks, and Remarks on Primary Seat Belt Enforcement and Child Occupant Protection, Washington, DC
Deborah A. P. Hersman
National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), Most Wanted List Press Conference: State Issues, Washington, DC

I know you've heard a lot of statistics, but I'm going to give you two more. First, 1 in 6 Americans doesn't use a seat belt. Second, of the 23 and a half thousand people who lost their lives last year in passenger vehicle crashes, more than HALF were NOT wearing a seat belt.

We hear a lot these days about cancer and heart disease because they kill too many Americans every day. What if we thought about highway deaths as a serious public health problem too? If you could take a pill every day that you knew would keep you from getting cancer or having a heart attack, you would probably take it. There are no magic pills for surviving these two diseases, but there is a guaranteed way to improve survivability in a car crash: buckle up.

I'd like to show you a video that graphically displays the danger of riding in a car without your seat belt.

Seat belts save lives – almost 13,000 lives in 2009 alone. Seat belts can also mean the difference between life and death for other occupants in the vehicle with you.

The Safety Board recommends that states enact primary enforcement seat belt laws. A 2010 survey by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) found that seat belt use is 12% higher in states with primary enforcement laws, than in those with secondary enforcement.

As you can see, indicated in green on the map, only 31 States and the District of Columbia have primary seat belt laws. There are still 19 states that need to take action.

Seat belts save lives and prevent injuries for adults, but we must properly protect our smallest passengers too.

For 14 years, the NTSB has been asking states to mandate that children under 8 travel in child safety seats or booster seats.

We've made great strides in amending our child passenger safety laws to better reflect best practices. But we still have work to do – 18 states need to strengthen their child passenger safety laws, and 3 states – Arizona, Florida and South Dakota – have no laws in place regarding booster seat use.

As you can see, we get some great help with PSAs in getting our message out. And because of those educational efforts, parents are putting their youngest children in child safety seats, and the statistics show that this is making a difference. Since 1997, crash fatalities for children under age 5 have dropped by 25%. Unfortunately, the statistics don't show the same gains among children ages 4 to 8. We need to get out the message – booster seats are simple, affordable and they can reduce fatal injuries by 54%.

This is Jayden, and he is 7-years-old. As you can see, the adult seat belt does not fit Jayden properly. It is cutting him across the neck and sitting over his stomach. If we give Jayden a boost using a booster seat, the shoulder portion of the seat belt fits comfortably across his chest and the lap portion of the seat belt fits low across his hips – NOT on his belly. In a few months Jayden will turn 8, but Jayden still may not be ready to move out of his booster seat until he is a little bit taller and the seat belt fits him properly. Thank you, Jayden.

As part of our continuing focus on children's safety, on December 9th, the NTSB is holding a one-day public forum on Child Passenger Safety in the Air and in Automobiles. We hope this forum will empower parents and caregivers to use size appropriate child safety seats every time their children travel – whether in the air or on the roadways.