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Survey finds most child restraints used incorrectly

NHTSA launches New campaign to promote booster seat use

Child restraint use is up, but improper use of these safety devices continues to be high, and that’s why the U.S Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is launching a new campaign to get parents to use the seats and use them correctly. Nearly 73 percent of all child restraints are improperly used, needlessly exposing children to an increased risk of death or injury.

But child restraint use has increased considerably since a similar study in the mid-1990s looked at restraint use for children weighing 60 pounds or less.  Between then and now, restraint use has increased from 50.6 percent to 71.5 percent for children in that weight category.  Tragically, nearly 12 percent of children were completely unrestrained – and thus at great risk, according to NHTSA.

“Child safety seats are very effective when used properly,” said NHTSA Administrator Jeffrey W. Runge, M.D.  “Parents and caregivers should take time to understand how to better protect children of all ages.”

Data for the study were collected in the fall of 2002 for 5,527 children weighing less than 80 pounds in 4,126 vehicles in six states: Arizona, Florida, Mississippi, Missouri, Pennsylvania, and Washington. (The current study differed from its predecessor in the weight range of children observed, with the earlier study looking at children under 60 pounds rather than 80 pounds.)

Researchers also found:

  • That 62.3 percent of these children were restrained in a child restraint system and 25.9 percent were restrained with a safety belt.
  • That overall misuse was 72.6 percent. The most common critical abuses were loose harness straps securing the child and a loose vehicle safety belt attachment to the child restraint.
  • A positive relationship between drivers using safety belts and children being restrained: 92 percent of the children who were transported by belted drivers were restrained, compared to only 62 percent of the children transported by unbelted drivers.

Earlier in the week, NHTSA launched a new public service advertising campaign with the Ad Council to help educate parents of young children who have outgrown child safety seats.  The campaign tells parents that the next step after child safety seats is not an adult safety belt but a booster seat.  At least 4 out of 5 children who should ride in booster seats currently do not.

NHTSA recommends that children up to 40 pounds and ages 4 through 8 be placed in an appropriate child seat instead of a safety belt, unless they are taller than 4 feet 9 inches.

“Safety belts are not designed to fit smaller children,” Runge said. “Booster seats remedy that problem by positioning the belt where it is most effective.”

For more information on the booster seat campaign, visit . The “Misuse of Child Restraints” report is available at