Power Players

Why child seats are required when you're going 50 mph, but not when you're going 500 mph

Power Players

Power Players

As the summer season has kicked into high gear, so too have Americans’ travel plans.

And as people prepare to make their way to their favorite Fourth of July destinations, former National Transportation Safety Board Chair Deborah Hersman sat down with “Power Players” to warn travelers about some of the biggest threats to travel safety.

The most glaring shortcoming in enforced travel safety, Hersman said, is that the use of child seats on airplanes is not required – and has even been discouraged in some cases – by airlines.

“We restrain our laptops, we restrain the coffee tops, but we don't restrain the most precious cargo on the airplane and that's our children,” said Hersman.

“It’s amazing when you look back 25, 35 years … things have completely changed when it comes to automobiles. All states have requirements for child passengers to be restrained,” Hersman said. “But yet the things that we take for granted when we're traveling 50 miles per hour, we aren't translating those to when we're traveling 250 miles per hour.”

Hersman’s call for stricter child safety guidelines for airplanes hinges on the 1989 crash landing of United Airlines Flight 232 that killed a 22-month-old child who was not secured in a safety seat.

Hersman advised that parents with small children use their child’s safety seats for air travel and take advantage of early-boarding opportunities so that they have ample time to secure those seats.

Despite this shortfall in air travel safety requirements, Hersman points out that road travel remains the biggest culprit to safety – especially when it comes to young people.

“Teen driving -- that's our number one killer of our young people today,” Hersman said. “When you put a teen behind the wheel, the first 1,000 hours and the first 1,000 miles -- those are the most deadly, and so parents have got to stay engaged with their kids, even after they get their driver's license.”

Hersman said there are “real judgment issues” inherent in putting teens behind the wheel.

“What kills teens behind the wheel the most is not necessarily distraction or speeding, it's inexperience – that inexperience to not make good decisions, to exercise poor judgment, to be distracted,” she said.

But teens aren’t the only culprits when it comes to judgment issues behind the wheel.

Hersman said if she could wave a magic wand and enact any law of her choice, she would eliminate cell phone use for drivers: “No devices in use by the driver, hand-held or hands-free.”

“People are checking out sometimes, they're not aware of their surroundings and certainly there's a cognitive distraction,” she said. “It's not just that the hand was engaged in holding the cell phone, but the mind was engaged in the conversation.”

Hersman’s personal method for practicing device-free driving means that she puts her purse in the trunk every time she prepares to get in the driver’s seat.

“Many times we don't have control over the people who are going to reach out to us and so, sometimes we have to keep the devices out of reach,” she said.

For more of the interview with Hersman, including tips for parents to avoid making the terrible accident of leaving a child unattended in a car, check out this episode of “Power Players.”

ABC News’ Matt Hosford, Alexandra Dukakis, Wayne Boyd and David Girard contributed to this episode.

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