ShareThis Page
Featured Commentary

'Perfect safety' is the enemy of good enough

| Saturday, Dec. 21, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

Balls and cartwheels are banned at recess and many schools are decreasing or eliminating free play.

Surveys show that car seats have become so complicated that many parents and caregivers don't use them at all.

When it comes to children's safety, it seems we've reached the point of diminishing returns as the quest for perfect results has become the enemy of good-enough regulations.

Many schools have banned tag and dodge ball, and others have reduced recess or eliminated it. At the Long Island middle school where balls were banned, the school superintendent explained, “we want to make sure our children have fun but are also protected.”

The result, sadly, is hurting kids, and especially boys, argues Christina Hoff Sommers.

“Girls benefit from recess — but boys require it,” she writes. “Boys playing tag, tug-of-war, dodge ball or kickball together ... are not only having a great deal of fun, they are forging friendships ... in ways that are critical to their healthy socialization.”

It also helps boys (and girls) focus in the classroom if they also have play periods. Keeping kids “perfectly safe” from balls and tag might just harm them as much as — more than? ­ — any playground injury.

The Fatality Analysis Reporting System reported in 2000 that “child safety seats reduced fatal injury by 71 percent for infants ... and by 54 percent for toddlers.” Recently however, states have tried to “improve” the regulations. The requirements for babies were extended and in many states kids now “graduate” out of car seats and boosters older and heavier.

Here's the trouble: Compliance has gotten much more difficult and expensive, and it might not make a difference.

Surveys already show low car seat compliance among parents and caregivers. Car seats are often improperly installed or there's no car seat at all.

As the NHTSA reported in 2011, “more than a third of children under age 13 who died in passenger vehicle crashes were not in car seats or wearing seat belts.” If some of those car-seat-less kids had just been strapped into the seat belt, isn't it possible a life might have been saved? The child might still have been injured but at least survived the crash.

Regulators don't like good enough though, so instead we get commitments like this: “Child passenger safety laws ... are proven to protect young lives. We encourage states to strengthen and enforce these laws to help keep more of our young people safe,” said Dr. Linda Degutis, director of the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control.

True. But you have to follow the rules first.

Abby W. Schachter lives in Regent Square and blogs about the intersection of government policy and parenting at

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.

click me