(Based on a report of a policy advocacy campaign for child passenger safety with the State of Kansas legislature in the early 1980's; as reported by Valorie Carson, KU Center for Community Health and Development. For more detailed information see the following citation: Fawcett, S.B., Seekins, T., & Jason, L.A. (1987). Policy research and child passenger safety legislation: A case study and experimental evaluation. Journal of Social Issues, 43, 133-148.)
BACKGROUND AND CONTEXT:
In the winter of 1980-1981, a Kansas state representative, with the support of the Kansas Medical Society and Kansas Women for Highway Safety proposed the Kansas Child Passenger Safety Act. A group formed to advocate for the passage of this bill aimed at improving safety of children riding in cars and other vehicles. The campaign was started in response to data collected indicating that many children were being injured when riding in motor vehicles and that child passenger safety devices were not being used. Similar bills had been passed in the states of Tennessee and Rhode Island, (USA).
GOALS OF THE CAMPAIGN:
The mission of the campaign was to prevent children from being injured while traveling in motor vehicles. The specific goal of the legislative advocacy campaign was to help pass a state law that would require all children under the age of 5 years in the state of Kansas to use a safety seat while traveling in motor vehicles and for a fine to be imposed on parents or guardians found driving with children not riding in protective devices, such as an infant carrier or car seat. Specific changes sought included seeking the Senate Transportation Committee's approval for the bill and subsequently the state legislature.
TARGETS AND AGENTS OF CHANGE:
Concern about the passage of a child passenger safety bill led the advocacy group to engage several agents of change. Members of the Senate Transportation Committee were seen as the most immediate targets of change for passage of the bill, with the full legislature following. Several agents of change were enlisted to address concerns about public support and perceived need for such a bill and to illustrate the physical injuries that can result from motor vehicle accidents in which children passengers are unrestrained.
STRATEGIES AND TACTICS OF LEGISLATIVE ADVOCACY:
Researchers from the University of Kansas collected data regarding: (1) whether the issue was sufficiently important to merit consideration by the legislature, and (2) whether constituents would support any regulation in an area usually reserved to parental discretion. Surveys and behavioral observations (to measure the prevalence of children under the age of five years in passenger protective seats) were completed in three Kansas communities to provide data to the legislature of their constituents support for such a measure. A pediatric psychologist presented a film about depicting physical injuries resulting from unrestrained child passengers and the president of the Kansas chapter of pediatricians spoke on national efforts for child passenger safety. In addition, a pediatrician spoke of treating several children who had been injured. The afore mentioned data was presented in public testimony to the House Committee on Public Health and Welfare as an argument for the bill's passage.
RESOURCES AND ASSETS USED:
Resources used included the time and talent of University of Kansas researchers and the conviction of Kansas health care providers and other experts in child passenger safety. A grassroots advocacy group, the Kansas Women for Highway Safety, provided a statewide presence. The campaign was effectively orchestrated by a lobbyist for the Kansas Medical Society.
ALLIES AND OPPOSITION:
Allies in the campaign included the Kansas Medical Society (especially pediatricians and family practitioners), a grassroots advocacy group called the Kansas Women for Highway Safety, and a freshman legislator who had been a nurse. A lobbyist from the Kansas Medical Society helped to draft the bill based on the Tennessee and Rhode Island legislation for child passenger safety. The Kansas Women for Highway Safety had had prior experience supporting legislative attempts to prevent injury and death due to highway accidents. While the freshman legislator knew that many similar bills were being introduced in other states, the committee's vote for consideration of the bill was close and she was concerned about its passage.
Anticipated opponents of the bill included car dealers and owners of station wagons. Unanticipated opponents that emerged after the bill was proposed were conservative forces and parent's rights groups, who felt the proposed bill put an undue burden on parents and imposed on the freedom of parents to care for their children as they best saw fit. Opponents sought to block the policy change, based on the argument that it would be too expensive to implement and enforce and that it infringed on individuals' rights, creating only more government interference into people's lives. They also argued that it unfairly burdened poor families and those with many children. The advocacy group reframed the debate away from one of the freedom of parents to one of the rights of children to be safe and healthy.
Subtle intimidation was later applied by an unidentified legislator opposed to the bill who charged the researchers with research bias and political involvement through the university's lobbyist in the state legislature. Although the researcher responded to the charges and no action was taken by the University's administrators, it was clear that researchers whose results were used to support policy advocacy could be subject to pressure from political groups.
RESULT AND EVALUATION OF SUCCESS:
In the end, the bill was amended in several ways in order to increase the likelihood of passage through the legislature. The original requirement that all children under the age of 12 be required to use child passenger safety devices was changed to children 5 years and younger. In addition, the penalty for not having one's child in a protective seat or carrier was eliminated, significantly reducing the incentive for parents and guardians to comply with the bill but also reducing the burden of enforcement and problems with the inability of poor families to afford protective devices. The bill received support of the chairman of the Transportation Committee along with several prominent members of the Senate and was passed in March of 1981. It went into effect January 1st, 1982. After an unsuccessful attempt to repeal the law, a stronger bill was passed in a subsequent legislative session.
Subsequent research suggested that the effects of the Kansas bill on the actual use of child passenger safety devices were weak. Although increased use was noted during the policy debate, the relatively weak Kansas bill had limited effect. However, the effect of the passage of a stronger bill in Illinois on the use of child passenger safety devices suggests how effective policy change can be. In Illinois, infant use of appropriate restraints increased from 49 to 79% and in children ages 1-4 years, use increased from 13 -42% after the Illinois Child Passenger Safety Law went into effect.