DaimlerChrysler AG this week will launch a multimillion-dollar program to set up checking and fitting stations for child safety seats at nearly 5,000 dealerships in the United States.
The program, initiated in response to a National Transportation Safety Board recommendation, will involve training and certifying Chrysler, Plymouth and Dodge dealership personnel as safety-seat specialists who will help consumers properly install the devices.
DaimlerChrysler also makes Mercedes-Benz cars and trucks, sold by 315 Mercedes-Benz dealers in the United States. But Mercedes-Benz, which has developed a new generation of "smart" child safety seats to be used exclusively with its vehicles, will not participate in the program, sources said yesterday.
Over the past eight years, more than 60,000 children -- from infants to teenagers -- have died in motor vehicle crashes in the United States, according to figures compiled by the National Transportation Safety Board. Many of those children were killed because they were unbelted, unbuckled or otherwise unattached to seats during crashes, according to NTSB Chairman Jim Hall.
Details on the DaimlerChrysler fitting-station program will be presented in Washington tomorrow at a news conference attended by Hall, DaimlerChrysler Co-Chairman Robert J. Eaton, and Richard Garvey, executive vice president and general manager of Fisher-Price Inc., one of the nation's largest manufacturers of child safety seats.
DaimlerChrysler has 5,300 dealerships in the United States, and all but about 300 Mercedes-Benz dealers will be involved in the program, according to company and government sources. Mercedes has led the industry by developing "smart seats" that can prevent a front-passenger air bag from deploying if a child is sitting in the seat at the time of a crash.
Sources said yesterday the dealers will likely not charge for the service and would provide it to anyone who shows up with any type of passenger vehicle. Officials would not discuss whether or how Daimler would shield itself from any possible liability.
Last week, DaimlerChrysler ordered the recall of nearly 1 million Chrysler, Dodge and Plymouth minivans with suspected defective wiring that could cause the inadvertent deployment of drivers' air bags. In another air bag matter, the NHTSA is investigating the passenger-side air bags in many Chrysler minivans, which have been implicated in the deaths of 11 children since 1994. The issue is still unresolved.
The National Safe Kids Campaign, a Washington-based group championing accident-reduction for children, has sponsored safety-seat checkups and clinics across the country. The NTSB observed that 80 percent of the time, the seats that were brought in by caregivers for a checkup were misused or improperly installed. Hall said parents tried hard to figure out how to use the seats, but were often stumped by the number of seats available and the complexity of installing them.
For example, for the 1999 model year, there are more than 2,000 different cars and light trucks on sale in the United States and 68 models of cars seats. That makes for thousands of potential combinations of cars and car seats, each with its own compatibility issue, Hall noted.
In January, the NTSB recommended that "vehicle manufacturers and child-restraint manufacturers support the establishment and existence of the child-restraint fitting stations," where parents and guardians could be shown the correct way to install child safety seats.
The board also addressed issues of liability, saying that such issues "can be handled by ensuring that fitting-station staff are required to pass a certification course, and have an opportunity for recurrent training."
The NTSB noted at the time that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, which oversees matters of vehicle safety, has developed a four-day certification course on the proper use of child restraints.