What may be obvious to some people is not obvious to all. A recent (PDF download) report from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) on children injured in motor vehicle crashes provides compelling evidence of the effectiveness of child safety seats. Yet not all children are placed in them.
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NHTSA’s latest analysis show that 85 percent of children under one year old who were involved in a motor vehicle crash were safely strapped into child safety seats. Older kids, not so much: only 24 percent of kids ages 4 to 7 were in child car seats. Nearly half of that age group was wearing vehicle seatbelts, but those are not designed to protect young bodies in a vehicle crash. Since motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death among children in the U.S., it’s important that all parents secure their young children in an appropriate child safety seat. (Learn more about types of car seats.)
NHTSA analyzed data from police-reported traffic crashes between 1999 and 2008, as well as data from trauma centers for children under 8 years of age. The results reconfirm that car seats significantly lower the risk of serious injury. Regardless of where children were seated in the vehicle back seat and what type of crash took place, they were more likely to suffer incapacitating injuries if they were not restrained in a car seat.
In particular, their analysis indicates that in rollover crashes, the estimated rate of incapacitating injuries among children under 8 years old was almost three times higher for unrestrained children than for those who were in car seats. In side impact collisions, where the child was seated on the side of the vehicle that was struck, unrestrained children were eight times more likely than restrained children to suffer an incapacitating injury.
Head injuries are the most common type of injury among children involved in a vehicle crash, and they are the most dangerous. Because the brain develops throughout childhood and into young adulthood, the repercussions of an infant’s head injury may not show up for years. The life-changing and devastating outcomes of head injury include neuropsychological problems, neurological deficits, frontal lobe injuries affecting social interactions and interpersonal skills, and injuries to the brain centers that control reading and writing.
Bottom line: There is no doubt that child safety seats protect kids. Make sure the little one you care for is in one every time your go for a ride. When your child is at least 57 inches (4’9” tall) and between 8 and 12 years old, and can ride comfortably seated in the vehicle’s seat, he or she can ride secured with a vehicle’s safety belts. Even with a safety belt, all children under age 13 should ride in the back seat. Studied children were twice as likely to sustain injuries when seated in the front seat than the rear.