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Toddler and Infant Car Seat Safety Data Should Scare Parents

Half a million children ride in cars without infant car seats, booster seats, or even seat belts. It's incredibly dangerous. Kids are dying.

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Every year, roughly 500,000 children ride in cars without infant car seats, booster seats, or even seat belts. And the consequences are tragic. In 2016, more than 700 children in the U.S. died in car crashes and nearly 130,000 suffered serious injuries. Of those who died, 35 percent were not buckled up and many others were restrained improperly. Studies have shown that about half of all car seats are either poorly installed or buckled incorrectly and that hundreds of children who should be in car seats are prematurely promoted to less safe booster seats. In other words, car seats work, but only when parents know how to work them.

The numbers are truly terrifying and fully justify the state laws the keep kids buckled up. They also warrant a second look for any parent taking a casual approach to running errands (to the degree that’s possible). Because car seats are only an effective safety measure if they are used scrupulously every time. So says the government and so says the data.

1 in 3 Children Who Die in Car Crashes Are Not Restrained…

In 2016, the National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration released its first report to specifically investigate children who had died and suffered serious injury on the road. They found that three children were killed every day in traffic crashes in 2016 and that drivers who didn’t put on their seat belts were unlikely to properly restrain their child passengers. Meanwhile, as the data below suggests, a shocking number of children who died in car crashes across all age groups were not restrained at all—no car seat, booster seat, or even a seat belt.

…And Many Who Are Restrained Are Buckled Up Improperly

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Around the same time as that report, NHTSA released a companion paper that investigated more than 4,000 vehicles and found that about half of all children on America’s roads are restrained improperly. Some very young children, who belong in car seats, were in booster seats; others were in age-appropriate restraints that had been installed or buckled incorrectly. As the data below indicates, forward facing car seats were the most misused, but even 1 in 5 booster seats—which are relatively simple to install and use—were set up improperly. 

State Booster Seat Laws Save Lives

It isn’t easy to ensure that every car seat is installed correctly, or educate all American parents in buckling safely. But states do have the power to enforce when parents transition children from car seats to booster seats. Indeed, five states now have laws mandating car seat use until 7 or 8 years of age and, as the following chart shows, all five have seen substantial declines in deaths.