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FOR RELEASE: February 8, 2001
CONTACT: Dick Gunn
405/271-5601

Oklahoma Child Passenger Safety Law Gets a Failing Grade from National Safety Group

In a study released today that rated child occupant protection laws across the country, Oklahoma earned an “F” for failing to properly protect children in motor vehicles. The study, titled, “Child Passengers at Risk in America: A National Rating of Child Occupant Protection Laws,” identified Oklahoma as one of 24 states to receive a failing grade from the National SAFE KIDS Campaign, which found startling gaps in coverage related to age, seating position and lack of specific child safety seat use.

SAFE KIDS stringently measured child occupant protection laws in all 50 states and the District of Columbia against a model law that requires correct restraint of all children, in all seating positions, in the care of all drivers.

Among the alarming findings, Oklahoma state law allows:

  • children 4 years old and up to be restrained by only a seat belt;
  • out-of-state residents to transport unrestrained children;
  • a low fine of only $10, plus court costs; and
  • drivers to transport unrestrained children if all seat belts in the vehicle are in use.

“This study exposes the sad fact that parents and caregivers in Oklahoma cannot depend on our state's law because of disturbing loopholes in child occupant protection coverage,” said Martha Collar, coordinator, Oklahoma SAFE KIDS Coalition, a program of the Oklahoma State Department of Health. “As a result, children's lives are in danger.”

SAFE KIDS graded the states in seven key categories: (1) restraint use required through age 15; (2) appropriate child restraint requirement by age; (3) proper child safety seat adjustment; (4) public education/public fund; (5) penalty provisions; (6) driver/circumstance exemptions; and (7) other provisions. SAFE KIDS' assessments are based on the language of each law, not its implementation or enforcement. Each grade, furthermore, does not correlate the quality of a state's law with its rate of child passenger deaths or injuries.

Nearly 1,800 children 14 and under die in motor vehicle crashes each year, and more than 276,000 children are injured. Children who are not restrained are far more likely to suffer severe injuries in motor vehicle crashes. Yet as many as 30 percent of children in the United States continue to ride completely unrestrained, and of those who do buckle up, four out of five children are improperly secured. Only five percent of 4- to 8-year-olds ride in booster seats.

As part of the effort to draw attention to the nation's child occupant protection laws, SAFE KIDS today launched a five-year initiative aimed at closing the gaps and identifying weaknesses in existing laws.

Beginning today, the Oklahoma SAFE KIDS Coalition will work to upgrade the state's occupant protection law by 2006. Closing the Gaps Across the Map will educate families on how to properly restrain their children in motor vehicles, and assist states in their law enforcement efforts.

“We want lawmakers to measure their existing law against the model child passenger safety law that we believe provides them with a benchmark,” stated Heather Paul, Ph.D., executive director of the National SAFE KIDS Campaign. “Our hope in assembling and analyzing this data is that every state's child occupant protection law will significantly improve as a result.”

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