Friday, July 15, 2005


Tony Blair has promised to hold urgent talks with Opposition leaders within two weeks to speed up legislation aimed at cracking down on people who encourage terrorist acts. The laws will target people who "glorify or endorse" acts of terrorism, or who instigate or prepare such actions. Those convicted could face exclusion or even deportation.

The Government originally planned to begin preliminary discussions about an anti- terrorism Bill in the autumn but yesterday's initiative suggests it is preparing to move much more swiftly. The issue of what would constitute the offence of "glorifying" or "endorsing" terrorism is bound to prove tricky and human rights campaigners have already expressed their intention to challenge any ambiguous language in the Bill.

On Monday, Mr Blair told the Commons that the Government would look carefully at action against those "who incite such hatred in our community . . . this is one of the things we should look at in the next few months". In the meantime, the Prime Minister has called a summit of Islamic and political leaders to work with the Muslim community to help it to drive out extremism. He called for worldwide action to uproot the "evil ideology" and "twisted teachings" that lay behind the terrorists' actions after Britain's four Muslim MPs said that their community could no longer live in denial and must tackle the extremism within it. The summit will be attended by Mr Blair, Michael Howard, Charles Kennedy and leaders of all sections of the Muslim community.

The Home Office is preparing two new offences to tackle those on the edges of terrorist activity and others who encourage or glorify it. An offence of acts preparatory to terrorism is aimed at people helping terrorists, including those providing safe houses and financial backing, and a new crime of "glorifying or condoning" terrorist activity is aimed at extremist clerics. Ministers are also preparing measures to make sure that imams coming to Britain have a better command of English and understanding of the British way of life....

For the Muslim Association of Britain, Harris Bokhari said that all communities, including Muslims, must co-operate with the police to prevent further attacks: "We cannot rule out the possibility of a conspiracy to carry out more attacks in the future, whether near or distant. An urgent measure would be to lend the police a helping hand in their investigations and their efforts to stem the threat altogether," Mr Bokhari said.

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But one question about car seats is rarely even asked: How well do they actually work? They certainly have the hallmarks of an effective piece of safety equipment: big and bulky, federally regulated, hard to install and expensive. (You can easily spend $200 on a car seat.) And NHTSA data seem to show that car seats are indeed a remarkable lifesaver. Although motor-vehicle crashes are still the top killer among children from 2 to 14, fatality rates have fallen steadily in recent decades -- a drop that coincides with the rise of car-seat use. Perhaps the single most compelling statistic about car seats in the NHTSA manual was this one: ''They are 54 percent effective in reducing deaths for children ages 1 to 4 in passenger cars.'' But 54 percent effective compared with what? The answer, it turns out, is this: Compared with a child's riding completely unrestrained. There is another mode of restraint, meanwhile, that doesn't cost $200 or require a four-day course to master: seat belts.

For children younger than roughly 24 months, seat belts plainly won't do. For them, a car seat represents the best practical way to ride securely, and it is certainly an improvement over the days of riding shotgun on mom's lap. But what about older children? Is it possible that seat belts might afford them the same protection as car seats?

The answer can be found in a trove of government data called the Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS), which compiles police reports on all fatal crashes in the U.S. since 1975. These data include every imaginable variable in a crash, including whether the occupants were restrained and how. Even a quick look at the FARS data reveals a striking result: among children 2 and older, the death rate is no lower for those traveling in any kind of car seat than for those wearing seat belts. There are many reasons, of course, that this raw data might be misleading. Perhaps kids in car seats are, on average, in worse wrecks. Or maybe their parents drive smaller cars, which might provide less protection.

But no matter what you control for in the FARS data, the results don't change. In recent crashes and old ones, in big vehicles and small, in one-car crashes and multiple-vehicle crashes, there is no evidence that car seats do a better job than seat belts in saving the lives of children older than 2. (In certain kinds of crashes -- rear-enders, for instance -- car seats actually perform worse.) The real answer to why child auto fatalities have been falling seems to be that more and more children are restrained in some way. Many of them happen to be restrained in car seats, since that is what the government mandates, but if the government instead mandated proper seat-belt use for children, they would likely do just as well / without the layers of expense, regulation and anxiety associated with car seats.

NHTSA, however, has been pushing the car-seat movement ever further. The agency now advocates that all older children (usually starting at about age 4) ride in booster seats, which boost a child to a height where the adult lap-and-shoulder belts fit properly. Could this be a step in the wrong direction? In 2001, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety sent NHTSA a memo warning that its booster-seat recommendations were ''getting ahead of science and regulations'' and that certain booster seats ''did not improve belt fit, and some actually worsened the fit.''

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