Archive for Monday, February 12, 2001

Safety scores

February 12, 2001


Although Kansas has laws requiring child safety seats and other safety restraints, the state didn't score well on a national assessment.

It was surprising to see Kansas child safety restraint laws get a failing grade on a report card issued by the National SAFE KIDS Campaign.

The state has laws requiring children to ride in safety seats or wear seat belts. Thanks largely to the efforts of former State Rep. Jessie Branson, the state started paying attention to such measures back in the late 1970s. But the National Safe Kids Campaign found many deficiencies in the Kansas laws, enough deficiencies to give the state a solid "F" 52.29 percent on its safety restraints grade card.

Almost half the states in the nation also received failing grades, but that doesn't mean Kansas shouldn't revisit this issue.

The SAFE KIDS website details some of the problems the campaign found in Kansas law. The state received 30 of a possible 35 points in the area of restraint use required through age 15. Kansas law does require children through age 13 to be restrained whether they are riding in the front or back seat, but points were deducted for the fact that children 14 and older legally can ride unrestrained in the back seat.

The state also lost points receiving 12 out of a possible 24 in the safety seat category because it requires safety seats only for children under 3. Children 4-8 years old can wear adult seat belts which may not adequately protect them.

In its only "A," Kansas went nine for nine on mandating not only safety seat use, but proper safety seat use.

From there, scores went rapidly downhill. The state has no mandated public education campaign (0 points, out of a possible 5). The penalty for violating the law is only $20 with no points assessed against a driver's license (1 point out of 9).

Kansas also received no points out of a possible 18 in the areas of exceptions for certain drivers of vehicles or "other provisions" that might redeem the state. SAFE KIDS, for instance, stated, "It is alarming to note that Kansas law allows a driver to transport children without restraints if all other seating positions in the vehicle are occupied by other restrained passengers." That is a fairly alarming loophole of which many Kansans may not be aware.

Among the recommendations made by SAFE KIDS were requiring children weighing 40-80 pounds to use booster seats, having restraint laws cover children through age 15, mandating a public information program and boosting fines for violations.

In the long run, public information may have the greatest impact on child safety in the state. Legislators are considering this session a measure that would allow officers to stop and ticket a driver simply for not wearing a seat belt. The current seat belt law is only enforced when a driver is stopped for some other reason. It may not hurt to toughen the laws requiring safety restraints either for children or adults, but those laws will continue to be difficult to enforce unless the size of the state's law enforcement agencies is substantially increased.

The SAFE KIDS report is useful because it draws attention to measures the state might consider mandating to increase the safety of children riding in cars. In the meantime, Kansas adults don't have to wait for new laws to take additional action to safeguard the state's children.

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