Despite a 43% drop in road crash deaths of children 12 and younger from 2002-2011, more than 9,000 children in that age group died in crashes during that period, says a new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Researchers found that one in three children killed in crashes in 2011 were not buckled up, and that nearly half of black and Hispanic children who died in crashes in 2009-2010 were unbuckled, compared with 26% of white children.
Previous research has shown that the use of age- and size-appropriate child restraints is the best way to prevent such deaths, but only two in 100 children live in states that require car seats or booster seats for children 8 and under, CDC says. Every state and Washington, D.C., has a child restraint law, but the ages of children covered varies, says Erin Sauber-Schatz, team lead of CDC's Transportation Safety Team. Tennessee and Wyoming are the only states that require a car seat or booster seat for children through age 8, the CDC says.
"These are troubling numbers, especially since so many of these deaths could have been prevented," says Tom Frieden, director of the CDC. "Although we've made progress reducing the number of child passenger deaths, we can do more to protect our children."
Researchers found that 45% of African American children and 46% of Hispanic children killed in crashes were unbuckled. They were not able to study the reasons for the sharp differences with white children in this study, but previous research has shown that "socio-economic status can play a role in whether a family has a car seat," Sauber-Schatz says.
Sauber-Schatz and Freiden say that parents who can't afford a car seat or booster seat should look for programs in their communities that will assist with acquiring one.
"More than 650 children 12 and under were killed in crashes in 2011," Sauber-Schatz said. "That's more than a dozen children every week."
The CDC argues that state child passenger restraint laws prompt more parents to secure their children in vehicles. A 2012 study by researchers at the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety examined the impact of laws in five states – Missouri, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, North Carolina and Wyoming – that increased the required car seat or booster seat age to 7 or 8 years. The study found that car seat and booster seat use tripled, and deaths and serious injuries dropped by 17%.
In addition to better laws, communities can: increase the number of certified Child Passenger Safety Technicians; team up with researchers to study racial differences in restraint usage and have health care providers counsel parents on restraint use.
The CDC urges parents to:
•Use car seats, booster seats and seat belts in the back seat on every trip.
•Use rear-facing car seats from birth to age 2.
•Use forward-facing car seats from age 2 to at least age 5.
•Use booster seats from age 5 until the seat belt fits properly.
•Use the seat belt once it fits properly without a booster seat.
•Install and use car seats according to the owner's manual or get help with installation from a certified Child Passenger Safety Technician.