Northwest NEWS

February 26, 2001


Many kids at risk in the family car

from Washington State Traffic Commission
   Most drivers wear seat belts in Washington, and even more use infant and child car seats, but new research shows that over 50 percent of all kids ages four to eight years old are using seat belts too early. According to traffic safety experts, children up to age eight or 80 pounds need to be in booster seats. New research shows that only 19 percent of kids in that age range are using booster seats in Washington.
   That's one finding of a new seat belt, car seat and booster seat use-survey unveiled by the Washington Traffic Safety Commission.
   The survey, the first of its kind in the United States, surveyed the child car seat patterns of 2,200 people in 36 counties in Washington state.
   According to the research:
   Only 19 percent of children 40 to 80 pounds were observed using a booster seat.
   Fifty-four percent of children between the ages of four and eight were riding in seat belts when they should have been in booster seats.
   And, 13 percent of children between 40 and 80 pounds were unrestrained.
   While traffic collisions are the leading cause of childhood fatalities and serious injuries for children under age 14, many of these tragedies are preventable when child safety restraint systems are used properly.
   The problem, safety officials say, is the lack of awareness.
   The study indicates that while most parents are making an effort to protect children riding in the family car, most don't use booster seats, unaware of the risks facing kids in adult lap and shoulder belts too soon.
   Studies show that without a booster seat, children wearing adult seat belts risk serious neck and abdominal injuries in traffic crashes. In fact, the chances of surviving a crash are 36 percent better when a child is in a booster seat.
   "As children grow out of their car seats, too many are being moved directly into adult seat belts, bypassing the booster seat stage altogether," said John Moffat, director of the state's Traffic Safety Commission.
   "Many parents mistakenly assume their kids are safe when, in fact, most children under eight simply aren't big enough to use adult-size lap and shoulder belts without a booster seat," Moffat said. "It's a tragic assumption."
   Different Seats for Growing Kids
   Rear-facing infant seats are designed for newborns and babies until they reach at least one year of age and 20 pounds. Forward facing and convertible child car seats protect toddlers up to about 40 pounds - which for most kids means their fourth birthday. Booster seats are specifically designed for children who weigh between 40 and 80 pounds, usually between four and eight years old. The booster seats raise the child up and position them in the car so that the regular lap and shoulder belts fit him or her properly.
   State and Local Action
   The survey's findings come as a surprise to many parents. Yet they confirm a problem child and safety advocates have been concerned about for some time.
   State legislators last year passed the nation's first mandatory booster seat law, adding to the existing seatbelt and car seat requirements. An 18-month public education campaign is underway to educate parents and promote booster seat use, well before the new law takes effect in July 2002.
   Local traffic safety coalitions are active statewide, arranging car seat check-up events, helping parents make sure their kids are safe and properly protected.
   "We don't want to send mixed signals, or discourage parents from using safety belts in the family car," said Moffat. "But if most children ages four to eight aren't using booster seats - the safe transition between car seats and adult seat belts - we need to redefine our 'buckle-up' message.
   "The news media is key to getting the word out," said Moffat. "Publicity raises awareness, and better awareness in this case will result in safety improvements for children."