ANN ARBOR, Mich.—All 50 states have some type of child safety seat law, 28 of which require kids to use child safety seats or booster seats through age 8 to reduce the risk of injuries in car crashes. But the latest C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital National Poll on Children’s Health finds that while nearly all parents report their kids, ages 5 and younger, use booster seats or car seats while riding in vehicles, use of booster seats drops sharply to 40 percent by age 8.
Michelle Lea Macy, M.D., M.Sc., a pediatric emergency medicine physician and clinical lecturer in the University of Michigan departments of Emergency Medicine and Pediatrics and Communicable Diseases, says that while seatbelts are not designed for young kids under 4-feet, 9-inches tall, there are many factors that may account for inconsistent booster seat use as kids age.
“I don’t think it’s surprising to find that kids 7 to 8 aren’t using safety seats any longer,” Macy says. “Parents may think their child is too big to put in a booster seat or that booster seats are baby seats. Laws about booster seat use came into play in the last decade, so parents talking to other parents about what’s safest for their child may not be getting the right information. Using a booster seat until 4-feet-9 is ideal.”
The January 2010 poll asked 706 parents with children, ages 4 – 8, about their use of booster seats and whether or not they know about their state laws regarding booster seats.
Overall, 76 percent of kids, ages 4 -8, are using booster seats. However, 51 percent of parents do not know their state booster seat law, and 20 percent think they know the law but are wrong about the age requirement.
Booster seats are known to reduce the risk of injury in car crashes by as much as 50 percent. Yet nearly 200 kids, ages 4 – 8, need emergency care in the United States each day for injuries suffered in car crashes. And every other day, one of these children dies from those injuries.
In spite of the safety benefits of booster seat use, the poll found that almost half of parents with kids, ages 7-8, say they would not use booster seats if there were no laws.
“The key issue here is safety, regardless of the child’s age. Booster seats improve the way a seatbelt fits a child. It helps lift them up in the cars’ seat so that the lap belt sits low on their thighs and doesn’t ride up on their abdomen,” Macy says. “It keeps the shoulder belt across the middle of their chest in between their ear and their arm. This reduces the risk of injuries to the spine, to the head and to the abdomen.
When kids don’t fit comfortably in seatbelts, it often leads them to wear them improperly. Kids will sometimes put the chest belt behind them or under their arm and then they’re not getting full protection from that seatbelt as it was designed for an adult to use. Not wearing the belt properly increases the likelihood of injury in a crash,” she says.
“Part of the problem is lack of up-to-date information for parents so they understand the importance of booster seat use and how to use them properly, Macy says. The best resources for current information are the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and talking with their child’s primary care physician.
Parents receive a lot of information when their child is a newborn. There are requirements at hospitals that you must have the right car seat before taking a baby home. Doctors talk to parents about the transition to facing forward, but after that, not much is known about how parents get information about seatbelt and booster seat use as they age. Talking with doctors at well child exams where they’re obtaining height and weight is a good time to discuss when to transition.”
This report presents findings from a nationally representative household survey conducted exclusively by Knowledge Networks, Inc, for C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital via a method used in many published studies. The survey was administered January 1-18, 2010 to a randomly selected, stratified group of parents aged 18 and older (n=706) with children, ages 4-8, from the Knowledge Networks standing panel that closely resembles the U.S. population. The sample was subsequently weighted to reflect population figures from the Census Bureau. The survey completion rate was 71 percent among parent panel members contacted to participate. The margin of sampling error isplus or minus 4 to 5 percentage points for the main analysis. For results based on subgroups, the margin of error is higher.
To learn more about Knowledge Networks, visit www.knowledgenetworks.com.
Purpose/Funding: The C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital National Poll on Children’s Health – funded by the Department of Pediatrics and Communicable Diseases and part of the CHEAR Unit at the U-M Health System – is designed to measure major health care issues and trends for U.S.children. Additional funding for this study was provided by the Michigan Center for Advancing Safe Transportation throughout the Lifespan (M-CASTL) http://m-castl.org/.
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Written by Jessica Soulliere
Media contact: Jessica Soulliere