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Published: Monday, 10/27/2003

Mandate in airlines could be deadly


PITTSBURGH - If the government tries to protect small children by requiring that they use child safety seats on airplanes, more kids could wind up dead, a study says.

That's because some parents likely would travel by car rather than pay for a separate airplane seat for children under 2. And traveling by car is more risky, according to researchers writing in the Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine.

Banning “lap babies” from planes would save 0.4 lives per year, according to the researchers. But the mandate would result in an overall increase in deaths if the proportion of families switching from air to car travel exceeded about 5 percent to 10 percent.

Congress asked the Federal Aviation Administration in 1995 to study the impact of banning lap babies, and the agency came back with the same conclusion: More children would be put at risk because families would drive instead of fly. But in the late 1990s, several airlines announced that they would sell tickets for small children at a discount, said Alison Duquette of the FAA.

This development “changed the playing field,” Ms. Duquette said, such that the agency gave notice in 1998 that it was considering making a rule on the subject. But the rulemaking hasn't gone any further.

The Association of Flight Attendants has supported a federal rule for years, arguing that neither flight attendants nor a baby's parents can protect unrestrained children in a crash or severe turbulence.

Very few deaths could be prevented by mandating safety seats, Dr. Thomas Newman, the researcher in charge of the study, said. That's because there are not many deaths involving unrestrained young children in survivable plane crashes. Since the potential benefit per child is low, that makes the cost per life saved high unless the cost per round trip ticket is close to zero.

The Block News Alliance consists of The Blade and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

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