According to FAA: Mandating Airline Child Safety Seats Costs Lives

Consumers' Research Magazine, January 2000 | Go to article overview

According to FAA: Mandating Airline Child Safety Seats Costs Lives


In mid-December, Jane Garvey, head of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), announced that the government intended to mandate use of child safety seats in aircraft in an effort to assure that "children are accorded the same level of safety in aircraft as are adults." With the standard-setting complexities involved, final rules may take some time to come forth. Although the issue has been simmering for years--see, for example, "Flying Babies," CR, March 1994--its emergence in a policy position by the FAA is curious given the agency's past reporting on the topic, especially since the agency released no new data. While pronouncements tend to focus on safety inside the aircraft, the issue raised by a mandate requires scrutiny of what happens outside the plane, where increased costs divert people to other modes of travel. The FAA itself said as much in a May 1995 report on the matter, excerpts from which follow. A good economy may mitigate the mandate's deadly side-effects, but responsible policy-making still requires informing the public about the potential downside.--Ed.

Infants under two years old are currently permitted to travel aboard aircraft in an unsecured manner on the laps of accompanying adults. Current airline general practice is to allow these infants to fly free of charge. Although the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) encourages and actively promotes the use of effective child restraint systems (CRSs) for infants in air transportation, their use is not mandatory and most infants now travel on the laps of adults. To analyze the economic and safety impacts of a CRS mandate, an analytical framework was developed, based on several premises:

* If CRSs become mandatory, infants will require the use of passenger seats, making them unavailable for other full-fare passengers.

* Costs will be associated with implementing a CRS mandate. These costs will affect air carriers, air passengers traveling with children under two, and possibly other passengers as well. One or more of these groups will either absorb or share the additional costs.

* Higher air travel charges for families traveling with infants, if implemented, will reduce demand for air travel for some families. These families may divert to other modes of transportation or may forego their trips completely.

* Increased costs and/or revenue loss may affect the profits of air carriers.

* Air travelers who divert to other modes of transportation will be subject to the higher mortality and injury rates associated with those modes.

The FAA completed laboratory testing of a representative group of CRSs. Other key parameters used in this study, however, such as the sensitivity of travel choices of families traveling with infants to possible increased fares associated with CRS use, and estimates of fares that air carriers may charge for CRSs, are not well established. Information on these and other topics relevant to the questions posed by the Congress was obtained by a review of pertinent literature and data; conducting five panel discussions with academic, industry, and government experts; and soliciting public comments through a Federal Register notice. Data available from previous studies and aviation industry and government sources suggest likely impacts if use of CRSs is made mandatory. However, except for efficacy issues, results of this study are only estimates and are not based on data derived from surveys, experiments, or tests. Study results are as follows:

* Efficacy of child restraint systems: Of the categories of CRSs tested, only the aft-facing types, typically used for infants under 20 pounds, performed well. Of the eight forward-facing carriers tested, only two met accepted head impact criteria limits. The installation of alternative anchor points on three of the forward-facing carriers tested resulted in a dramatic improvement of these carriers. Booster seats failed to prevent head impact and presented a potential safety threat because of crushing forces related to seat-back breakover. …

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