|||Graphic: Use of child-safety restraints in Hawai'i|
By Mike Leidemann
Advertiser Transportation Writer
This might be the best driving news of the year: Fewer children were killed in motor vehicle crashes in 2001 than at any time in record-keeping history.
A report released last week by the U.S. Transportation Department shows that 2001 marked another year in the long, steady decline of traffic-related fatalities for children younger than 15 years old.
"Clearly, parents and caregivers are getting the message about the importance of proper restraints for children of all ages," said Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta, in releasing the nation's annual statistical report on traffic accidents.
The number of child fatalities has dropped almost every year since 1995, when more than 1,600 children died in crashes. Last year the figure was below 1,400 for the first time in more than a decade.
Mineta and others said the decrease is a direct result of an ongoing educational campaign to make sure children are properly restrained with either seat belts or child seats.
That's certainly true in Hawai'i, where another new report shows more parents using restraints for their children.
The report, done by University of Hawai'i researchers for the state Transportation Department, shows marked gains in child restraint use. The overall compliance rate for infants (younger than 1 year) and toddlers (1 to 3 years) increased from 43.2 percent last year to 66 percent this year.
Hawai'i's child restraint law requires all children younger than 4 to be secured in a child safety seat when riding in a vehicle. A separate law mandates that youths between 4 and 17 be harnessed by a seat belt if they are in the rear.
Parents seem to be most protective of younger children, the report noted.
"Of the 230 infants (1 year and younger) observed by researchers across the state, 90.9 percent were restrained. By contrast, just 59.5 percent of toddlers (1 to 3 years) were properly restrained."
Those figures are a big increase from a decade ago.
In 1991, the same Hawai'i survey found that only 55.3 percent of infants and toddlers were properly buckled up.
Nationwide, the 2001 statistics also show the increased risk of death and injury when drivers and passengers do not wear seat belts or fail to have their children properly restrained in child safety seats: 60 percent of the passenger vehicle occupants killed in crashes last year were not restrained.
"There is no more effective safety device than a seat belt or child safety seat," said Dr. Jeffrey Runge, administrator of the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration. "It often makes the difference between life and death in a serious crash."
Among the other results:
- The overall number of people killed and injured in motor vehicle crashes has declined dramatically since 1988. Fatalities have fallen from 48,000 to 42,000 annually in that period.
- Fatalities and injuries for young drivers 16 to 20 declined.
- Fatality rates for all types of vehicles are declining.
- People killed and injured in large truck crashes declined.
- Motorcycle fatalities increased dramatically in 2001 to almost 3,500. The number of motorcycle deaths has been increasing steadily for the past five years.
Hawai'i, by the way, was one of 26 states and territories that showed an increase in traffic-related deaths last year. Statewide, there were 140 fatalities, a 6.1 percent increase over the 132 people who died in motor vehicle traffic crashes the year before. The totals are compiled by the state Transportation Department from county police departments and forwarded to the National Center for Statistics & Analysis.
The biggest increases in fatalities this year were in the District of Columbia (up 42 percent), North Dakota (22 percent) and Wyoming (22 percent). The biggest declines occurred in Alaska (down 85 percent), Minnesota (down 9.1 percent) and Connecticut (8.5 percent).
Reach Mike Leidemann at email@example.com or 525-5460.