Child Passenger Safety: Fact Sheet
Motor vehicle injuries are the leading cause of death among children in the United States.1 But many of these deaths can be prevented. Placing children in age- and size-appropriate car seats and booster seats reduces serious and fatal injuries by more than half.2
- In the United States during 2009, 1,314 children ages 14 years and younger died as occupants in motor vehicle crashes, and approximately 179,000 were injured.2
- One CDC study found that, in one year, more than 618,000 children ages 0-12 rode in vehicles without the use of a child safety seat or booster seat or a seat belt at least some of the time.3
- More than two-thirds of fatally injured children were killed while riding with a drinking driver.4
- Restraint use among young children often depends upon the driver’s seat belt use. Almost 40% of children riding with unbelted drivers were themselves unrestrained.5
- Child restraint systems are often used incorrectly. One study found that 72% of nearly 3,500 observed car and booster seats were misused in a way that could be expected to increase a child’s risk of injury during a crash.6
- Child safety seats reduce the risk of death in passenger cars by 71% for infants, and by 54% for toddlers ages 1 to 4 years.2
- There is strong evidence that child safety seat laws, safety seat distribution and education programs, community-wide education and enforcement campaigns, and incentive-plus-education programs are effective in increasing child safety seat use.7
- According to researchers at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, for children 4 to 7 years, booster seats reduce injury risk by 59% compared to seat belts alone.8
- Child passengers should never be seated in front of an airbag. Airbags can injure or kill children in a crash that might otherwise have been survivable.
Parents and caregivers can:
- Use a seat belt on every trip, no matter how short. This sets a good example.
Make sure children are properly buckled up in a seat belt, booster seat, or car seat, whichever is appropriate for their age, height and weight.
Know the stages:
- Birth through Age 2 – Rear-facing child safety seat. For the best possible protection, infants and children should be kept in a rear-facing child safety seat, in the back seat buckled with the seat’s harness, until they reach the upper weight or height limits of their particular seat. The weight and height limits on rear-facing child safety seats can accommodate most children through age 2, check the seat’s owner’s manual for details.
- Between Ages 2-4/Until 40 lbs – Forward-facing child safety seat. When children outgrow their rear-facing seats (the weight and height limits on rear-facing car seats can accommodate most children through age 2) they should ride in forward-facing child safety seats, in the back seat buckled with the seat’s harness, until they reach the upper weight or height limit of their particular seat (usually around age 4 and 40 pounds; many newer seats have higher weight limits-check the seat’s owner’s manual for details).
- Between Ages 4-8 OR Until 4'9" Tall – Booster seat. Once children outgrow their forward-facing seats (by reaching the upper height and weight limits of their seat), they should ride in belt positioning booster seats. Remember to keep children in the back seat for the best possible protection.
- After Age 8 AND/OR 4'9" Tall – Seat belts. Children should use booster seats until adult seat belts fit them properly. Seat belts fit properly when the lap belt lays across the upper thighs (not the stomach) and the shoulder belt fits across the chest (not the neck). When adult seat belts fit children properly they can use the adult seat belts without booster seats. For the best possible protection keep children in the back seat and use lap-and-shoulder belts.
- All children younger than 13 years should ride in the back seat. Airbags can kill young children riding in the front seat. Never place a rear-facing car seat in the front seat or in front of an air bag.
- Place children in the middle of the back seat when possible, because it is the safest spot in the vehicle.8
- CDC. Web-based Injury Statistics Query and Reporting System [online]. National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (producer). [2010 August 2].
- Department of Transportation (US), National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), Traffic Safety Facts 2008: Children. Washington (DC): NHTSA; 2009. [cited 2010 August 2].
- Greenspan AI, Dellinger AM, Chen J. Restraint use and seating position among children less than 13 years of age: Is it still a problem? Journal of Safety Research 2010. 41: 183-185.
- Shults RA. Child passenger deaths involving drinking drivers—United States, 1997−2002 [published erratum appears in MMWR 2004;53(5):109]. MMWR 2004;53(4):77–9.
- Cody BE, Mickalide AD, Paul HP, Colella JM. Child passengers at risk in America: a national study of restraint use. Washington (DC): National SAFE KIDS Campaign; 2002.
- Department of Transportation (US), National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), Traffic Safety Facts Research Note 2005: Misuse of Child Restraints: Results of a Workshop to Review Field Data Results. Washington (DC): NHTSA; 2006. [cited 2010 August 2]
- Zaza, S, Sleet DA, Thompson RS, Sosin DM, Bolen JC, Task Force on Community Preventive Services. Reviews of evidence regarding interventions to increase the use of child safety seats. American Journal of Preventive Medicine 2001: 21 (4S), 31-47.
- Committee on Injury, Violence, and Poison Prevention. Child passenger safety. Pediatrics. 2011;127(4):788-93.
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