Only a small portion of U.S. children use age-appropriate safety restraints in vehicles, and many are placed at risk by riding in the front seat, according to new research published in the September issue of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.
The American Academy of Pediatrics 2011 guidelines say children should use:
- Rear-facing car seats at least until age 2
- Forward-facing car seats with a five-point harness for as long as possible, until reaching the maximum height and weight suggested by the manufacturer
- Booster seats until an adult seat belt fits property, which is about when a child reaches 57 inches in height
"We found that few children remain rear-facing after age 1, fewer than 2 percent use a booster seat after age 7, (and) many over age 6 sit in the front seat," Dr. Michelle L. Macy, coauthor of the study with Dr. Gary L. Freed, said in a press release. Both work in the Child Health Evaluation and Research Unit, Division of General Pediatrics, at C.S. Mott Children's Hospital at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor.
The researchers evaluated three years of survey data on booster seat use from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Trained data collectors observed and recorded drivers with child passengers as they arrived at gas stations, restaurants, recreation centers and child care centers. They recorded child restraint type and seat row, adult and child gender, driver restraint use and vehicle type.
Drivers were interviewed to report their own age, the ages of the children they were transporting, and the race and Hispanic ethnicity of the children.
Child safety seat use declined as children aged, and lower proportions of minority children used age-appropriate restraints, compared to white children.
"The most important finding from this study is that, while age and racial disparities exist, overall few children are using the restraints recommended for their age group, and many children over 5 are sitting in the front seat," Macy wrote.