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Child Passenger Safety

What's the Problem?

In the United States, motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for children between 1 and 14 years of age. In 1998, 1,772 children younger than 15 years were killed and 264,000 were injured as passengers in motor vehicle crashes: An average of 5 children under the age of 15 were killed and 723 injured in motor vehicle crashes every day.

Who's at Risk?

Anyone riding unrestrained in a motor vehicle is at increased risk for dying or sustaining injuries in the event of a crash. In 1998, approximately 61% of children 15 years and younger who were killed as passengers in motor vehicle crashes were riding unrestrained. Unfortunately, restraint use decreases as children's age increases. While 97% of infants younger than one year ride in child safety seats and 91% of children between one and four years ride restrained, only 69% of children between five and fifteen years ride restrained. And many children are not properly restrained. Recent studies have found that child safety seats are misused by as many as 85% of users.

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As with all passengers, children riding with drivers who have been drinking are at increased risk for motor-vehicle-related injuries. More than half of children under age 15 who were killed in alcohol-related crashes were riding with drivers who had been drinking.

Can It Be Prevented?

Properly used restraints reduce the risk of fatal injury by more than half. When properly installed, child safety seats reduce fatal injury by as much as 71% for infants less than one year old and 54% for toddlers between ages one and four.

As a general rule, all kids under age 12 should sit in the back seat. The back seat is the safest place for anyone to be in a crash, and children sitting in the front seat during a crash can be injured or killed by passenger-side air bags.

Infants should ride in rear-facing child safety seats in the back seat until they weigh 20 pounds and are at least one year old. Toddlers and preschoolers should ride in a forward-facing child safety seat in the back seat until they weigh about 40 pounds (usually around age four). Many parents don't know that children who have outgrown their child safety seats should ride in a booster seat—until the lap and shoulder belts in the car fit properly. In most cases, this means that 4-to-8 years-olds should ride in a booster seat, in the back seat.

Everyone should ride properly restrained at all times. It can be tempting for parents to not use child safety seats or booster seats, particularly on short trips that are close to home, when they are rushed, or when they are simply exhausted from a long day. Parents may also have to deal with older children who are resistant to the idea of booster seats. Remembering that car crashes can happen anywhere, anytime, and at any speed is important. Saving a child's life is always worth the few extra minutes required.

Tips for Scripts

  • INFORM viewers about the life-saving benefits of child safety and booster seats.
  • PORTRAY a car crash in which properly restrained riders are not seriously injured.
  • EDUCATE viewers on the proper use of child safety restraints and demonstrate that there are resources in their communities to help them in this process (e.g., hospitals, fire departments, SAFE KIDS coalitions).
  • REMIND viewers to never put their families at risk by driving under the influence of alcohol or other substances.
  • HAVE a parent or guardian who has consumed only a small amount of alcohol give the car keys to a friend, spouse, or oldest teenaged driver.
  • DEMONSTRATE the use of child safety restraints as smart, routine, every-day behavior.
  • SHOW kids 12-years and younger riding properly restrained in the back seat.
  • TAKE a few seconds to show parents securing infants and young children in child safety seats and/or belt-positioning booster seats.
  • HAVE a parent or guardian refuse to start the car until everyone is buckled up.

Case Example

A woman learns that her husband and two children, having survived a bad car crash, are in the emergency room. Her husband and older daughter (age 10) have minor injuries: a broken arm, scratches, bruises and a sore neck. The younger son (age 7) is in surgery and may need to go through weeks of rehabilitation. The woman learns from the doctor that the son was severely injured because he slipped under the seat belt. She corrects the doctor, explaining that their son always sits in a booster seat, but the doctor assures her that the boy was not sitting in a booster seat at the time of the accident. The woman realizes/accepts that her husband wasn't using the booster seat for their youngest son and the episode focuses on the resulting pressures/issues placed on their relationship within the context of their son's prognosis.

  • Page last reviewed: February 8, 2011
  • Page last updated: February 8, 2011
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