On the roads or in the skies, few would disagree that infants
are America's most precious cargo. Even parents who don't buckle up
often insist that their children do. And for families with toddlers
today, auto safety seats are standard equipment.
After nearly every accident involving a child, questions arise
about safety requirements - as federal hearings this week into air
bags show.The hearings are part of an unusual, albeit disparate,
push now under way to retool the nation's child safety laws
covering automobiles, bicycles, and commercial airlines.
"Adults are required to wear seat belts, luggage must be stowed,
and even coffee pots must be restrained during take-off, landing,
and turbulence," said Rep. Peter DeFazio (D) of Oregon, when he
introduced a bill this month to require commercial aircraft to have
safety seats for children under the age of 2. "Our infants should
be afforded the same level of safety."
But enacting tougher standards is often hard. While no industry
or government official wants to be perceived as uncaring, nearly
two decades of debate over airplane child safety seats, for
example, reflect the difficulty of mandating safety while keeping
the cost of travel accessible to a wide audience.
Currently, children under 2 may be held during flights,
eliminating the need for parents to purchase an extra seat
(airlines call them unticketed lap children).
But momentum may finally be building for a change. The National
Transportation Safety Board - a government watchdog agency - has
long recommended that aircraft restraint systems for toddlers be
mandatory. Vice President Al Gore's Commission on Airline Safety
and Security recently seconded that call.
The Federal Aviation Administration, which is charged with
regulating as well as promoting air travel, is currently reviewing
the recommendation. But the FAA has declined to mandate the systems
in the past because it says the benefits gained from child safety
seats don't outweigh the cost to airlines and ultimately the
INDEED, travelers with children under the age of 2 would have to
purchase another ticket if safety seats are required. That might
force some people to forsake travel by air.
For example, Debbie and John Manchester, who have a 16-month-old
son, say the increased cost would likely change their mode of
travel. The Manchesters flew from their home in Madison, Wis., to
Boston for Christmas. They did not have to purchase a seat for
their son. "That would have cost us another $200," Mrs. Manchester
says. "We probably would have taken our car if we would have had to
buy another ticket."
The FAA says that is the very reason it has declined to mandate
child safety seats.
The back-and-forth between the government agencies over the
safety seats also shows the different and often adversarial roles
the NTSB and FAA play. …