Marilyn Bull

Alumni

A Safer Way to Travel

One alumna’s mission to improve automotive safety and protection for children.

BY MIKE WILK
Winter 2019
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Marilyn Bull (M.D. 1968), a neurodevelopmental pediatrician at the Riley Hospital for Children at Indiana University Health, realized early in her career that it was easier to prevent accidents than heal the issues they caused.

In Bull’s first three years at Riley, while directing follow-up programs for the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU), she saw premature infants face significant dangers after leaving the hospital — and not from complications related to their preterm births. Two former NICU patients suffered permanent brain damage and another died as the result of car crashes. 

“It made no sense that caregivers and families gave so much love, attention, and care to these children, but we hadn’t protected them from a tragedy that could have been prevented,” Bull says.

At the time, the safety benefits of car seats hadn’t been fully recognized, and not every family had a seat for their child. Bull set out to change that. In 1980, she launched Indiana’s first car seat lending program at Riley, allowing parents to borrow car seats for their infants. She grew that effort into the hospital’s Automotive Safety Program, one of the country’s most comprehensive child passenger safety initiatives. 

Bull’s research has also influenced car seat laws around the nation, and helped improve auto safety equipment and practices around the world. She developed the curriculum for passenger safety technicians on Safe Transportation for Children with Special Needs and served on boards and committees for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), American Academy of Pediatrics, and Association for the Advancement of Automotive Medicine. 

Bull has been honored with the White House and U.S. Department of Transportation Champion of Change Award, the NHTSA Public Service Award, and the C. Everett Koop Medal of Distinction from Safe Kids Worldwide.

Her efforts have contributed to a marked decline in child traffic injuries and deaths over the past four decades, and Bull continues to innovate better methods to safeguard children. She is working to improve passenger protections for children with special needs and enhance ambulance safety for pediatric patients. 

“My biggest joy has been making a difference for families,” Bull says. “We might not be able to completely fix a problem, but we can make lives better.” 

Photo courtesy of Marilyn Bull