Results of a recent national public opinion survey show that parents report placing an estimated 3.3 million children ages 0-12 – six percent of all children in this age group – in the front seat of cars, trucks and SUVs, putting them at greater risk of serious injury or death in an accident.
Public Opinion Strategies, Inc. conducted the survey for the National Safety Council’s Air Bag and Seat Belt Safety Campaign. The National Safety Council is a public/private partnership of automotive manufacturers, insurance companies, child safety seat manufacturers, government agencies, health professionals and child health and safety organizations. The goal of the Air Bag and Seat Belt Safety Campaign is to increase the proper use of safety belts and child safety seats and to inform the public about how to maximize the lifesaving capabilities of air bags while minimizing the risks.
The Campaign, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), and the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) strongly recommend that children 12 and under ride properly restrained in rear seats. That includes infants in rear-facing seats, children in convertible seats, children in booster seats, and children restrained by seat belts. Research has found that rear seats are up to 35 percent safer than front for children.
A recent study by the Campaign found that the lives of more than 1,700 children have been saved between 1996 and 2001 solely because they were sitting in a rear seat. Even with this progress, statistics show that 324 children died in the front seat in 2002 alone.
The survey findings are based on self-reported behavior—what parents themselves say they are doing. Observational data released by NHTSA in February 2003 indicate the situation is even worse. According to NHTSA, parents are putting 15 percent of infants, 10 percent of toddlers ages 1-3, and 29 percent of children ages 4-7 in the front seat.
Analysis of fatality data also found that over a ten-year period, front seat fatalities for children ages 12 and under have declined by 36 percent. But the analysis also showed that an alarming number of children are still being placed in the front seat since 32 percent of all child fatalities were among children riding in front.
"These findings are an alarm bell that parents still haven’t heard the critical safety message, "old air bag, new air bag, no air bag, kids are safer in a rear seat properly restrained." said Chuck Hurley, Executive Director of the Air Bag & Seat Belt Safety Campaign of the National Safety Council. "It is particularly important that this message get out to lower-income families of all races whose self-reported behavior places their babies at much greater risk."
The survey showed that on average six percent of all children ages 0-12 are being placed in the front seat according to their parents. Seven percent of all infants 0-1 are being placed in the front seat, while for Hispanic and African American infants the number is almost double at 13 percent. The survey also found that parents with lower income and education levels were more likely to place their children in the front seat.
The movement of children to the rear seat has been credited with helping to dramatically reduce the number of child air bag deaths and child deaths overall. Since 1996, the rate of child air bag deaths has declined a remarkable 94 percent despite more than five times the number of passenger air bag equipped vehicles on the road. Even more children have benefited from the additional margin of safety in the rear seat in the majority of crashes.
"Motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death of American children ages 4-15 years," said NHTSA Administrator Jeffrey W. Runge, M.D. "Children ages 12 and under are 26 to 35 percent less likely to be fatally injured in a crash if they are in the back seat."
Hurley says the situation is even worse for booster-seat age children (ages 4-8) because they are not only at risk from being placed in the front seat, but many are at risk because they’re not using booster seats at all. According to NHTSA, 80 to 90 percent children who should be restrained in booster seats are not. Booster seats reduce injury risk by 59 percent – seat belts alone are inappropriate for children under 4'9" because the belts are designed for adults and do not fit children properly. Following are tips on properly securing your children:
- Children 12 and under should be properly restrained in a rear seat.
- Infants should ride in rear facing safety seats as long as possible; until they are at least 12 months old and weigh at least 20 pounds.
- Children who are at least one year old, weigh 20-40 pounds, and can no longer ride rear-facing should ride in forward facing child safety seats.
- Children over 40 pounds should be correctly secured in belt positioning boosters or other appropriate child restraints until the vehicle seat cushion length and adult lap and shoulder belts fit correctly (when they are about 4' 9" tall.)
- Once the vehicle seat cushion length and safety belts fit children, both lap and shoulder belts should be correctly used.
- Any safety seat must be installed and used according to the manufacturer's instructions and your vehicle owner's manual.
Once you securely buckle your kids in the back seat, make sure you tell others about the perils of kids in the front. Spread the word at your kid’s school, at your Church, Mosque or Synagogue, and at any activities (football, soccer, etc.) that your children participate in. For more information on how to properly secure your children, visit the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s Web site at www.nhtsa.gov.
Copyright 2006 Automotive Rhythms Communications, LLC. All rights reserved.