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John D Mchugh  /  AP File
Britney Spears has tried to apologize for the driving incident, but Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta was having none of it: “Her actions still send the wrong message to millions of her fans.”
updated 2/14/2006 8:42:56 AM ET 2006-02-14T13:42:56

Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta chided pop star Britney Spears as “irresponsible” for driving with her baby on her lap as he announced a new initiative Monday to improve child car-seat safety.

“Recent photos of Britney Spears driving with her infant son on her lap are troubling. And while Ms. Spears has acknowledged her mistake, her actions still send the wrong message to millions of her fans,” Mineta said at an event at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia to mark the start of Child Passenger Safety Week.

Photos published earlier this month showed Spears driving her sport-utility vehicle in Malibu, Calif., with her 4-month-old son perched on her lap. The pop star acknowledged that she made a mistake but said she acted instinctively when frightened by paparazzi.

“No matter who you are, there’s absolutely no excuse for this display — not instinct, not fear, not even reckless paparazzi,” Mineta said. “It’s irresponsible to compromise the safety of a child for the sake of the moment.”

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After a tour of the hospital’s emergency department, Mineta announced $25 million in new federal funding over the next four years to states that pass and enforce new or tougher booster- seat laws. Sixteen states do not currently have such measures on the books, he said.

“Each year, over 53,000 kids are needlessly injured in crashes,” he said. “If all of these children had been riding in a booster seat, it’s possible that thousands of them would have escaped their crashes virtually unharmed.”

Booster seats — designed for children too big for traditional toddler seats and too small for safety belts — raise a child up so the safety belt fits properly.

Mineta said children roughly from about age 4 to age 8, as long as they are under 4-feet-9, should be placed in booster seats.

Smaller children who are belted in without a booster seat run the risk of serious — and preventable — injuries by seat belts that are designed to fit adult frames, said Dr. Dennis Durbin, a pediatric emergency physician at CHOP. “Seat Belt Syndrome” can cause damage to a child’s abdominal organs, spleen and spine because the belt is strapped across the abdomen instead of low in the hips, he said.

“In 1999 ... booster seats were used by only 5 percent of 4- to 8-year-olds. By the middle of last year, that figure stood at just over 30 percent,” Durbin said. “That is great news. But there remains much room for improvement.”

Copyright 2006 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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