WASHINGTON – Maryland officials are faulting a national study that gave the state a grade of F for its child-safety-restraint laws, saying the analysis ignored strong enforcement, education and loaner programs.
Even some members of the Maryland State Safe Kids Campaign attacked the study by the National Safe Kids Campaign as a “slap in the face,” saying the national study looked only at the letter of the law.
The national study compared laws in the 50 states and the District of Columbia to model legislation that it supports. By that standard, 24 states got F’s and 19 got D’s, with only California receiving an A.
Maryland got a score of 59 on a 100-point scale, one point shy of a D. That put it about in the middle of the states, despite its grade of F.
“It’s unfair to look at the language of the law in a vacuum,” said Barbara Beckett, coordinator of the Maryland State Safe Kids Campaign. “There is a big difference between a model law and the way it’s actually enforced.”
Beckett complained that Florida received a B despite lax enforcement of its tough laws, while Maryland and other states were punished because they had turned to non-legislative solutions.
Advocates pointed to a December study by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety that gave Maryland the highest kudos for its vehicle safety laws, along with Washington, D.C., and California.
“The difference is our focus really is on what has been shown to work,” said Susan Ferguson, the institute’s senior vice president of research. “We didn’t get into the picayune details that they did.”
Delegate Bill Bronrott, D-Montgomery, called the Safe Kids study “baffling.” A longtime advocate for child passenger safety, he introduced a bill this week that would require booster seats for children between the ages of 4 and 8 or between 40 and 80 pounds. Only California and Washington have similar laws.
But the program manager of the Montgomery County Child Passenger Safety Program worried that the Safe Kids report might make it harder to pass such legislation.
“I hope that the next time I testify in front of the legislature, they don’t look at this report and say, ‘Why bother? You’ve done a terrible job,'” said Emily Crown.
The institute’s study focused on two primary factors: whether the state had a law mandating restraints for all children under 13 and whether a seat belt violation is a primary offense, which allows police to pull drivers over for it. Maryland has both.
The Safe Kids Campaign focused on a variety of issues, some of which Maryland officials took issue with. For instance, it criticized Maryland for its “low $25 maximum fine” for a seat-belt violation.
“That’s not accurate,” said Maryland State Police Cpl. Rob Moroney. He said the fine for failing to properly transport a child is $48. The $25 fine applies to unbelted adults.
Maryland has issued 6,624 child-safety-seat citations and 951 warnings over the past two years, he said.
Moroney said Maryland police are dedicated to “vigorously enforcing the law and vigorously educating the public.” State Police should get an A+ for their efforts, Moroney said.
Another issue was Maryland’s law that waives fines for people who can show they purchased a child-safety seat between the violation and their court date.
“The law is not meant to be a revenue enhancer,” said Beckett, but is intended to encourage people to go out and buy the seats.
Alan Korn, director of public policy and general counsel for the National Safe Kids Campaign, said parents should not be able to get out of punishment because a message must be sent. While he defended the report, however, he enthusiastically agreed that Maryland would have done better if other factors were scored.
“If the report had graded programming, education and other factors, Maryland would have gotten an A++,” Korn said.
Korn said Maryland, and particularly Montgomery County, is a model for the country in its education programs, fitting stations and child-safety-seat checks. Crown noted that the national group recently gave Montgomery County an award for checking over 8,000 child-safety seats, the most of any county in the country.
Nonetheless, Korn said the General Assembly has to catch up with the work around the state.
“The stringent standards of the study reflect our conviction that strong laws are catalysts to good behavior,” Korn said.