PhotoThe years 2002-2011 saw a big decline in the number of children age 12 and younger who died in motor vehicle crashes.

According to a new Vital Signs report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), deaths in that age group plunged 43%. However, more than 9,000 children died in crashes during that period.

Research has shown that using age- and size-appropriate child restraints (car seats, booster seats, and seat belts) is the best way to save lives and reduce injuries in a crash. Yet the report found that almost half of all black (45%) and Hispanic (46%) children who died in crashes were not buckled up, compared with 26% of white children (2009-2010).

“No child should die in a motor vehicle crash because they were not properly buckled up and yet, sadly, it happens hundreds of times each year in the U.S.,” said CDC Director Tom Frieden, M.D., M.P.H. “Many of these tragedies are preventable when parents use age-and size-appropriate child restraints every time their child rides in a motor vehicle.”

Key findings

CDC analyzed 2002–2011 data from the Fatality Analysis Reporting System, collected by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, to determine the number and rate of motor-vehicle occupant deaths, and the percentage of child deaths among children age 12 and younger who were not buckled up.

The Vital Signs report also found that:

  • One in three children who died in crashes in 2011 was not buckled up.
  • Only 2 out of every 100 children live in states that require car seat or booster seat use for children age 8 and under.
  • Child passenger restraint laws result in more children being buckled up. A recent study by Eichelberger et al, showed that among 5 states that increased the required car seat or booster seat age to 7 or 8 years, car seat and booster seat use tripled, and deaths and serious injuries decreased by 17%.

“Parents and caregivers play an important role in keeping children safe in the car,” said Daniel M. Sosin, M.D., M.P.H., F.A.C.P., acting director of CDC’s National Center for Injury Prevention and Control. “Children often imitate their parents; so it’s important that parents model safe behavior and buckle up on every trip. Parents also should always buckle children in age- and size-appropriate car seats, booster seats and, seat belts.”

What to do

PhotoTo help keep children safe on the road, parents and caregivers can:

  • Use car seats, booster seats, and seat belts in the back seat on every trip, no matter how short.
  • Use rear-facing car seats from birth up to age 2
  • Buckle children in a rear-facing seat until age 2 or when they reach the upper weight or height limit of that seat.
  • Use forward-facing car seats from age 2 up to at least age 5. Make sure than when children outgrow their rear-facing seat, they are buckled in a forward-facing car seat until at least age 5 or when they reach the upper weight or height limit of that seat.
  • Use booster seats from age 5 up until seat belt fits properly. Once children outgrow their forward-facing seat, they should be buckled in a booster seat until seat belts fit properly. The recommended height for proper seat belt fit is 57 inches tall.
  • Use a seat belt once it fits properly without a booster seat. Children no longer need to use a booster seat once seat belts fit them properly. Seat belts fit properly when the lap belt lays across the upper thighs (not the stomach) and the shoulder belt lays across the chest (not the neck).
  • Install and use car seats according to the owner’s manual or get help installing them from a certified Child Passenger Safety Technician.
  • Buckle children age 12 and under in the back seat.

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