Child Car Seat Safety: Know the Numbers

car seat safety

The car seat safety statistics show that motor vehicle crashes are the the leading cause of death to children ages 3-14 in the United States.

During September we recognize Child Passenger Safety week and put extra focus on educating parents about the importance of car seat safety.

In 2011, more than 650 children ages 12 years and younger died as occupants in motor vehicle crashes. Of all the children who died in a crash in 2011, 33% were not restrained.

Fatalities represent only the tip of the iceberg. More than 148,000 children in this age range were injured in car crashes.

Car Seat Safety Studies Show?

  • 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.
  • More of the older children (45% of 8-12 year olds) were not buckled up compared with younger children (one-third of 1-7 year olds; one-fourth of infants under 1) in 2011
  • More black (45%) and Hispanic (46%) children were not buckled up compared with white (26%) children (2009-2010).

One CDC study found that, more than 618,000 children ages infant to 12 rode in vehicles at least some of the time without the use of a restraint be it car seat, booster seat or seat belt.

What about correct use?

Obviously it’s safer to use a child restraint. But do you know how many car seats are used incorrectly, meaning there is at least one thing parents can do better in using the car seat?

Any where from 75% to 90% of child restraints show critical misuses (depending on the study you refer).

The most common forms of misuse are using the wrong seat for the child’s age and weight,  loose safety belt attachment to the car seat and loose harness straps on the child.

This is a problem because another statistic says 96% of parents believe they installed their child’s car seat correctly. Meanwhile these misuses increase a child’s risk of serious injury during a crash by 3.5 times.

The good news is 98% of children under age one and 96% of children from ages 1-3 are restrained in a car seat, whether properly used or not.

What about “booster age” children?

NHTSA’s reports, based on the National Survey of the Use of Booster Seats (NSUBS), that in 2013, 46% of children ages 4-7 were restrained using booster seats (either high-backed or backless), 21% were still in forward-facing car seats and 33% were not properly restrained — with 24% were in seat belts and 9% were unrestrained.

Things have improved. In 1999 the number of children 4-8 using booster seats was a mere 4% and just back in 2004 it was 27%.

Booster seat misuse is 41%. (That seems like a lot for something that supposed to be so much easier to use doesn’t it?)

All children whose weight or height is above the forward-facing limit for their car seat need to use a belt positioning device, like a booster seat or RideSafer® Travel Vest, until the vehicle lap-shoulder belt fits properly or when they pass the 5-step seat belt fit test, which is typically when the child has reached 4 feet 9 inches in height.

How do we get better child car seat safety statistics?

The good news is the rate of use of child restraints has been improving.

  • In 1999 it was 15%.
  • In 2008 it was 80%.
  • In 2013 it was 91%.

As child safety seats have been shown to reduce fatal injury by 71% for infants and 54% for toddlers ages 1-4 and 45% for children ages 4-8, we can improve the statistics more by using the seats more correctly and not “graduating” children to seat belts too early.

That’s where more education comes in.

NHTSA estimates that 284 lives of children under age 5 were saved by child restraints.

Plus we reduce the injury risk by 64% for newborn to 8 year olds and 31% for 9-12 year olds by keeping them in the rear seat.

What do parents do?

  1. Buckle up themselves. If they buckle up, parents are more likely to buckle their children. And their children will be more likely to buckle themselves as they get older.
  2. Learn how to properly install and use their car seat.
  3. Follow best practice as best they can when selecting which type of restraint to use for their child based on age, weight and height.
  4. Keep their children in the back seat until age 13.

Just out of curiosity, how are older children doing when it comes to car safety?

Compared with other age groups, youths 16-24 have the lowest seat belt use rate. In 2011, 82% of teens in the age range wore seat belts. (There are more male than female of those who don’t buckle up.) In fact, in 2011 the majority (58%) of young people 16 to 20 years old involved in fatal crashes were unbuckled.

Sources: Safe Kids USA, NHTSA, CDC,, CHOP, Governors Highway Safety Association

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