Safe Kids USA has released a new study that analyzed 79,000 car seats from their country-wide car seat check up events and found there are many mistakes parents make and a number of ways to improve the safety of children riding in vehicles. The importance of these findings is underscored by the majority of seats being incorrectly installed and the harsh reality that motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for children between the ages of 3 and 14.
The study, believed to be the largest of its kind, looked at the type of car seats used, how they were installed, which direction they faced, and if the tethers or lower anchors were used. The main problem found was that tether use was very low, with only 28 percent of forward-facing seats using this feature. Of those that did use the tether, only 59 percent did it correctly. The top tether is very important as it reduces the movement of a child’s head in a crash, preventing the seat from tipping forward.
There is some good news from the study: nearly all children under 13 were seated in the backseat and less than 1 percent of children who arrived at the car seat check were unrestrained. In addition, over 90 percent knew the history of their seat, which is important, because if you buy a used car seat you don’t know if it has been involved in a crash or it may not have the label listing the expiration date.
Safe Kids noted some important areas where public education is needed, including increasing the awareness of the proper height, weight, and ages of children in various car seats. The most recent recommendation from the Academy of Pediatrics is that all children under 2 years should sit rear facing. The study noted that for ages 1-4 years, over 31 percent were still riding rear-facing and for children 20-39 pounds, 41 percent were still facing rearward. That is encouraging as more parents are learning that the rear-facing position is safest.
There is also progress in that car seat manufacturers are increasing the limit of the internal harness to accommodate bigger and heavier children. In the study, 31 percent of children 4-8 were still using an internal harness and children weighing between 40 and 79 pounds were harnessed almost 28 percent of the time.
For children over 8 years-old, 38 percent were still using booster seats. That has been helped by state booster seat laws, but whether you have a law or not, it’s best for children to stay in booster seats until they are over 4’9”, which is typically between 8- and 12-years-old.
Next week marks National Child Passenger Safety week, serving as a good opportunity for parents to have certified child passenger safety technicians check the fit and installation of their car seat, and to learn how to properly install their child seats. In over 99 percent of cases, technicians at these events are able to secure seats properly in a vehicle. Check out the Safe Kids site to find a check up event near you.
When shopping for a new car, check our safety information in the road tests, as it includes an expert evaluation of safety-seat compatibility.