Basic mistakes in the use of in-vehicle equipment is leading to the loss of young lives, according to two recent surveys.
In the United States, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has found that just under half of all vehicles fitted with on/off switches to the air-bag were incorrectly set, exposing children to 'grave risk'. At the same time, the British AA Motoring Trust has reported that incorrectly fitted seat belts are causing the deaths of up to 30 children a year.
US legislation allows the use of an on/off switch to pick-up trucks, smaller passenger cars and cargo vans that do not have rear seats. Proper use of the switches requires drivers to turn the air bag off for children of 12 and under but activate it when the passenger seat is occupied by an adult. The use of on-off switches will be eliminated as advanced air bag systems are put into vehicles. This phase-out will be complete by Model Year 2013. More than 12 million vehicles make use of the exemption in the US.
The NHTSA survey found that, on average, 48 per cent of air bag switches were incorrectly left on for child passengers, aged 12 and under and, in 17% of cases, were incorrectly turned off when the seat was occupied by adults.
"Airbags can be real lifesavers if used properly but pose grave risk to small children," said NHTSA Administrator Jeffrey W. Runge, MD
In the UK, the report from the AA Motoring Trust found that two thirds of child restraints are wrongly secured. It claims that more than 100,00 children a year are involved in accidents in which the effectiveness of their restraints is critical to the extent of their injuries. Of these, 670 are seriously injured and 30 killed.
The AA is campaigning for carmakers and seat manufacturers to adopt a universal securing system.