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If You Were Watching the Today Show, You Saw Dubner Talking About Car Seats vs. Seat Belts (But Only if You Were in the Right Time Zone)

Dubner went solo on the Today Show this morning. Levitt, who still can’t quite get his head around flying halfway across the country to do a four minute interview, was off at a water park in Wisconsin with his wife and kids, which luckily was a good enough excuse to miss the interview.

If you weren’t on the East Coast, however, the only way you will ever see what he said is right here in the transcript reproduced below. The show plays live on the East Coast, but is shown taped elsewhere. When the bombs went off (or failed to go off as it were), the Today Show switched to live coverage across the country. That left Dubner on the cutting room floor in the other time zones.

So here is the transcript…

Copyright 2005 National Broadcasting Co. Inc.
All Rights Reserved
NBC News Transcripts

SHOW: Today 7:00 AM EST NBC

July 21, 2005 Thursday

LENGTH: 1183 words

HEADLINE: Stephen Dubner, co-author “Freakonomics,” discusses child safety seats and seat belts



MATT LAUER, co-host:

It’s a controversial conclusion: There is no evidence that car seats do a better job than seat belts in saving the lives of children older than the age of two. That from the men behind the best-selling book, “Freakonomics.” But author Stephen Dubner, a father of two himself is–under five–excuse me–is not throwing away his car seats just yet.

Stephen, good morning. Nice to have you back.

Mr. STEPHEN DUBNER (“Freakonomics”): Hi, good morning. Thank you.

LAUER: Why look at car seats? What’s it have to do with economics?

Mr. DUBNER: Well, it has to do with looking at data and big sets of data from which you can kind of see some over–overarching truth. And it also had to do with the fact that I once rented a minivan and it had built-in fold down booster seats. And I thought, `Gosh, this seems to be a more practical way of making a child safe in the existing lap and shoulder belt, which don’t fit children, than adding on a different car seat or booster seat.

LAUER: When you looked at the data your conclusions are going to surprise a lot of people and even shock some people. I want to say right off the bat, in all 50 states there are child safety seat laws; in 33 of the 50 states there are booster seat laws. So they weren’t enacted for the fun of it. There had to be science behind it.

Mr. DUBNER: Yes. One–one would like to think there’s s a lot of science behind it, and we’re certainly not recommending that people throw away their cat seats or booster seats. What we’re saying is that…

LAUER: Or break the law by–by not using them.

Mr. DUBNER: Absolutely, because it certainly would be illegal to do so. And in fact, NTSA, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, is actually revising the regulations upward for older children. What we’re saying is that if you look at the real world data without an agenda, just to see what actually happens, you’ll see that children, as you said, two and older who ride in a lap and shoulder belt do just as well in fatalities and injuries as children who are in car seats and booster seats.

LAUER: Wait–wait, fatalities and injuries? Because I–we contacted a lot of people who will tell us…

Mr. DUBNER: Mm-hmm.

LAUER: …that while your data might be–or your data might be correct in terms of fatalities in car accidents, that you did not look into the serious injuries.

Mr. DUBNER: Yeah, we–we did. In fact, by now The New York Times article for which this most recent car seat column was written, we looked primarily at fatalities, but we also did include injuries in the analysis in the academic paper that my collaborator Steve Levitt wrote.

But since then, because of the challenges and because, look, we want to get this right, not for the sake of being right, because this is a life and death issue, so since then we’ve looked at four other data sets and each time the answer is the same which is little or no benefit for death or injury of car seats.

LAUER: Because some of the car seat companies we contacted, and NTSA, which you mentioned before, said, `By the way, seat belts, lap and shoulder belts , for certain age children of a certain size…

Mr. DUBNER: Mm-hmm.

LAUER: …actually can cause severe internal injuries in a crash.

Mr. DUBNER: That may well be true. Again, looking at the data in various ways, in complicated data, and looking at it in controlling for as many different circumstances as possible, the many different kinds of crashes that happen, we don’t find that to be true. I will say this. We’ve offered to share our data and programs with all of these other researchers, and we hope they’ll share theirs as well because, again, the idea is not for us to be right. We–we’re pretty sure we’re right, but we want an optimal solution.

LAUER: You did some crash-testing of your own, is that correct?

Mr. DUBNER: Yes. Really…

LAUER: How does it compare to the scientific testing that NTSA has done over the years and the car companies and the seat companies who’ve done it.

Mr. DUBNER: If someone had done the testing that we did already, we wouldn’t have had to do it ourselves.

LAUER: We’re looking at a three-year-old sized dummy in a car seat. What did you find?

Mr. DUBNER: We found that if you test a three-year-old in a car seat and then I think the next clip will see a three-year-old dummy in a lap and shoulder belt right here. These dummies have sensors to measure the head and chest impact. What they don’t have are sensors to measure abdominal and neck, which is definitely a concern.

LAUER: A flaw in the science maybe in your research?

Mr. DUBNER: Well, now–not in our research. The dummies are yet–are not yet equipped with those sensors.


Mr. DUBNER: They’re working on it. But what we found is that there was no benefit from the car seats for that test and then also for a six-year-old dummy as well.

LAUER: Yeah, when you went up the age group and you went to booster seats–by the why there’s the split shot of both of the impacts.

Mr. DUBNER: Mm-hmm.

LAUER: When you went to the booster seat and a six-year-old or size dummy, what did you find there when you compared the booster and the lap and shoulder belt?

Mr. DUBNER: Same exact effect, which is basically no difference. And, you know, you saw earlier in the booster seat here, you see it less. In the three-year-old in the car seat you–you may have seen it. The seat actually ri–the car seat rises up and really the–the–the point here is that if you were to start from scratch, and if the real goal is saving children’s lives, your optimal solution would almost certainly not be to say, `Hey, let’s add on a contraption to a car that’s built to be safe.’ The idea would be to make adjustable seat belts that fit children and/or integrated car seats.

LAUER: And–and by the way you also talk about in the article that a survey shows something like 80 percent of child safety seats are improperly installed…

Mr. DUBNER: Yeah.

LAUER: …by the parent or by the owner.

Mr. DUBNER: And that’s from NTSA, who’s acknowledging that, yes.

LAUER: But, again, there are laws in place in 50 states, and 33 states for booster seats. You are not suggesting that people–you want them to learn more. You do not want them to go out and disobey the law.

Mr. DUBNER: What–what we really want to happen is all the money and energy that’s being spent on the science now or on the regulation now would be spent to develop a better child restraint system in cars.

LAUER: Stephen Dubner. Stephen, thanks so much.

Mr. DUBNER: Thank you, Matt.

LAUER: It was good to have you here.

Forty-nine after the hour. We’re back right after this.