In a Press Release issued yesterday, the FAA announced its decision “that it will not mandate the use of child safety seats on airplanes because of the increased safety risk to families.” According to the FAA, “if forced to purchase an extra airline ticket, families might choose to drive, a statistically more dangerous way to travel.” FAA Administrator Marion Blakey was quoted as saying “[s]tatistics show that families are safer traveling in the sky than on the road,” said FAA Administrator Marion C. Blakey. “We encourage the use of child safety seats in airplanes” and “if requiring extra airline tickets forces some families to drive then we’re inadvertently putting too many families at risk.”
The press release also notes that “the FAA is also broadening the categories of the types of systems that airlines can provide on aircraft by amending its regulations permitting the use of alternative child restraint systems to improve safety for children otherwise secured only with a lap belt.” The pertinent final rule was published in the Federal Register today and is avialable here. The Final Rule is effective Septermber 26, 2005 and comments are due no later than September 26, 2005.
Almost immediately, the NTSB issued a Press Release expressing its disappointment with the FAA’s refusal to follow through on its earlier proposed rulemaking to require child safety seats. Chairman Rosenker noted that “[w]hile the FAA’s new position may provide more options for the voluntary use of safety seats, we continue to believe that infants and young children deserve the same protection that is provided to other aircraft passengers,” and that “[d]uring takeoff, landing, and turbulence, adults are required to be buckled up, baggage and coffee pots are stowed, computers are turned off and put away, yet infants and toddlers need not be restrained. This is an unnecessary risk to our children.”
Seems to me that the FAA gave in to pressure from the airlines. I find its logic rather stretched and without any statistical support to show that families “might” drive instead of fly if forced to purchase an extra ticket to accomodate a child safety seat. Sure they cite statistics regarding the comparative safety of air travel versus automobile travel. However, they don’t cite any evidence to show a child safety seat mandate will actually result in decreased air travel and increased automobile travel. Without any empirical support to correlate the two, this seems like a feeble argument for transportation safety.
I also question whether airlines or aircraft manufacturers will actually pursue the TC, STC or TSO alternatives proposed in the final rule for obtaining approval of alternative child restraint systems. Those options have been available all along, but no one has apparently exercised them. Why would they now? Simply because the FAA has issued a final rule telling them they could do it? I don’t think so.
Don’t get me wrong: I am all for supporting travellers’ use of aircraft rather than automobiles. And I agree that air travel is safer than automobile travel. However, in this case, this appears to be more political rulemaking rather than rulemaking truly in the interests of safety.