Children and Auto Accidents - Are Seat Belts to Blame?

By Insurance.com Posted : 04/09/2009

Booster Seats Essential but Rarely Used
While almost all parents use car seats for newborns and toddlers, pre-school age children don't get the same protection – but need it! Each year, almost 500 children ages 4 through 7 die and thousands more are injured in motor vehicle crashes.

According to the Partners for Child Passenger Safety, only 19% of all children 4 to 7 sit in booster seats, which can substantially reduce the risk of death and injury. Of those not in a booster, but using an adult seatbelt, most of these children are too small or short, risking injury or death. In some cases, an adult restraint is more dangerous than none – but barely.

Why Booster Seats?
Booster seats elevate the child up off the vehicle seat to permit better fit with an adult safety belt. A booster can position the lap belt portion of the seat belt across a child's hips securely. A safety belt that's out of position can cause the lap strap to rise over the stomach and the shoulder belt to cut across the neck, leading to possible abdominal or neck injury. And, just as adults do, if the belt is uncomfortable, children will put it behind their backs, defeating the purpose!

Today, forty-two states and the District of Columbia have booster seat laws for toddlers, but only 21 states and DC require booster seats for children ages 4 through 7. Insurance.com supports the recommendations of Advocates for Highway & Auto Safety, an alliance of consumer, health and safety groups and insurance companies and agents working together to make America's roads safer.

What to Do
Pediatricians and other child safety groups recommend that you place children in a rear-facing child seat in a back seat of the car for as long as is appropriate for the seat's height and weight limits. Then put children in a forward-facing child seat in the back seat of the car for as long as is appropriate for the seat's height and weight limits. After that, children should use an appropriate belt-positioning booster seat until they are at least 4'9" and can remain comfortably seated with:

  • their back at the rear of the car's seat
  • feet flat on the floor
  • knees bent at the edge of the seat
  • lap belt across the top of their thighs
  • shoulder belt across their shoulder rather than their neck

– for the whole trip, on a consistent basis. You can find more resources at the bottom of our article about car seat safety.

Looking for different information? Have questions or feedback? Please let us know.

Originally posted September 17, 2004.

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