Failure to use car seats correctly puts kids at risk

Children’s car seats are used correctly only about 25 percent of the time, according to estimates from the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration. Put another way, this means that three out of every four U.S. kids are not fully protected in the event of a car accident.

Study sheds light on improper car seat use

A study conducted at the University of Michigan provides a more in-depth look at the prevalence of improper child restraint use. Based on observations at gas stations, recreation centers, daycare centers and fast-food restaurants, researchers collected data on more than 21,000 child passengers between 2007 and 2009 to determine whether they were properly restrained.

The study, which was published in The American Journal of Preventive Medicine in 2012, showed that many children were not using car seats or booster seats as recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics. According to the analysis, this included:

  • 21 percent of kids under the age of four
  • 33 percent of kids ages four through five
  • 66 percent of kids ages six through seven

Furthermore, the researchers found, 11 percent of children observed were not buckled in at all – with a seatbelt or a car seat. Unrestrained children were seen more often in vehicles containing an unbuckled adult, as well as in vehicles with four or more child passengers.

Crash data shows car seats work to protect kids

Injuries caused by motor vehicle accidents are the leading cause of death for kids in the United States, according to data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Car seats and booster seats are very effective at preventing crash-related injuries to children, but only if they are used correctly.

CDC statistics show that proper car seat use can reduce the risk of death by 71 percent among infants under one year old, and by 54 percent in children between the ages of one and four. Similarly, children ages four through eight are 45 percent less likely to be seriously injured in a crash when using a booster seat than when using a seatbelt alone.

Proper installation and use of a child safety restraint system can be surprisingly confusing, even for those who read the instructions carefully. To help parents and caregivers make sure they are getting the most out of their child restraint systems, the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation provides safety seat fitting assistance at 75 locations throughout the state. These stations are staffed by technicians who are trained in proper safety seat installation.

Seek legal advice if your child is hurt

Parents of children who have been injured in a crash are encouraged to consult with an experienced personal injury lawyer to learn about the legal issues involved and discuss the options that are available to help protect the child’s rights. In many cases, compensation may be available to help offset the cost of medical care, rehabilitation, lost income and other losses connected to the crash.