Motor vehicle safety
Avoiding high-risk situations
Children can get hurt when parents or caregivers do not properly restrain them when riding in a vehicle, or are unaware of the dangers associated with certain motor vehicle situations. Avoid placing your child in a high risk situation, which include:
- lack of the use of child safety restraints or improper use of safety restraints in motor vehicles
- improperly used or installed child safety seats
- placing children in front of passenger seat airbags (either in an infant safety seat or sitting facing forward)
- allowing children to ride in the cargo areas of pickup trucks
- trunk entrapments
- leaving children unattended in cars
Injury and death rates
The following statistics are from the National SAFE KIDS Campaign, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, and the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control (part of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, CDC):
- Motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of unintentional injury-related death among children ages 14 and under.
- In 2005, 1,451 children ages 0 to 15 years were killed in vehicle-related deaths..
- Fifty percent of children ages 14 and under killed in motor vehicle crashes were not safely restrained.
- If all children under age 5 were placed in child safety seats, approximately 50,000 serious injuries could be prevented and 455 lives would be saved annually.
- About 203,000 children ages 14 and under suffered injuries in motor vehicle crashes in 2004.
When and where car accidents are most likely to occur
- About 75 percent of motor vehicle crashes occur within 25 miles of home.
- Most crashes occur in areas where the speed limit is 40 mph or less.
- More motor vehicle crashes occur in rural areas, which are often more severe.
Children most likely to be injured in a motor vehicle
- More than 20 percent of deaths among children ages 14 and under were due to a motor vehicle crash involving alcohol. About 50 percent of the children killed in alcohol-related crashes were in vehicles with drunk drivers.
- Boys are one-and-a-half times more likely to die in a motor vehicle crash than girls.
- American Indian and Alaska Native children are three times more likely to die in a motor vehicle crash than Caucasian and African-American children.
- Parents in rural areas and low-income communities are less likely to use safety restraints for children in motor vehicles.
Children are smaller than most adults, so their smaller size means that standard safety belts in motor vehicles do not properly fit to protect children's bodies. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), children do not fit in adult shoulder/lap belts (without a booster seat) until they are 58 inches tall and weigh 80 pounds.
Children age 4 to 8 years are especially at risk for improperly using safety belts in motor vehicles because they have outgrown their child safety seats and often are placed too soon in adult lap/shoulder belts without a booster seat. Unfortunately, it's estimated that only five percent of children in this age group are properly restrained with booster seats in motor vehicles.
Improperly used/installed safety seats
Unfortunately, many people think they have installed their child safety seat correctly and believe they are using it properly. However, National SAFE KIDS Campaign Car Seat Check Ups prove differently. As many as 85 percent of child safety seats are found to be improperly installed and/or used when vehicles are stopped and checked. A child can suffer injuries or death in a motor vehicle crash if the child safety seat is not properly installed or used.
Some of the most common mistakes in installing or using child safety seats
- safety belt not holding the seat in tightly and/or not in locked mode
- harness straps not snug and/or routed correctly
- harness retainer clip not at armpit level
- locking clip not used correctly
- car seat recalled and not repaired (includes booster seats)
- infants placed rear-facing in front of an active air bag
- children turned forward-facing before reaching 1 year of age and 20 pounds
The importance of reading instructions
Parents and caregivers should carefully read their vehicle owner's manual and the instructions that come with the child safety seat to ensure proper installation and use of the seat. Some child safety seats are not compatible with certain vehicles - try the child's safety seat in your vehicle before you purchase it. Also, place your child in the child safety seat before purchase, to ensure proper fit.
Safety restraint statistics
Children's believes that sharing the following statistics is just one way to help educate parents so their children avoid injuries incurred with in a motor vehicle.
- More than 25 percent of children ages 4 and under are unrestrained in motor vehicles. A child who is age 4 or under and rides unrestrained in a vehicle is twice as like to die or get injured in a motor vehicle crash.
- About 85 percent of child safety seats or booster seats are improperly used.
- Children ages 12 and under who are seated in the rear seat of a passenger vehicle are 36 percent less likely to die in a motor vehicle crash.
- One in four children ages 13 and under rides in the front passenger seat, increasing the risk for injury and death.
- Properly installed and used child safety seats can reduce the risk of death by 71 percent for infants and 54 percent for children ages 1 to 4. Child safety seats can also reduce the need for hospitalization among children ages 4 and under by 69 percent.
- Ninety-five percent of children ages 4 to 8, between 40 and 80 pounds, who are supposed to be using car booster seats, are improperly restrained. Children ages 4 to 8 are legally allowed to use adult seat belts, however, the belts just do not restrain in the proper manner.
- All 50 states and the District of Columbia have primary child restraint laws (drivers may be stopped for violating those laws).
Your child and the danger of airbags
Airbags, when properly used with the vehicles' lap/shoulder belts system, can save adult lives. However, airbags can increase the danger to your child's
When infants in rear-facing child safety seats and children who are unrestrained are placed in the front seat with an airbag, they may be too close to an inflating airbag in the event of a crash. An airbag will inflate at speeds up to 200 mph, which can hurt passengers who are too close to the airbag. In addition, because of the child's size, the airbag can strike him/her on the head or neck, resulting in serious or fatal injuries.
To ensure your child is as safe as possible in a vehicle
- Never place him in front of an airbag.
- The safest place for small children riding in vehicles is the rear seat, away from the impact of head-on crashes.
- If your child must ride in the front seat, move the seat as far back as possible, away from the airbag.
- If the car has no back seat, infants will only be safe in their rear-facing child safety seats if the vehicle has no airbag, or if the airbag has been switched off (an option in some vehicles).
The danger of children riding in the cargo area of trucks
Pickup trucks may not be as safe as other vehicles for small children. Limited cab space often leads to parents letting their children ride in the cargo area. However, riding in cargo areas increases the risk of dying 10 times when involved in a collision, compared to other types of collisions, according to the US Department of Transportation. Being thrown out of the cargo area is the main cause of injury and death for cargo passengers. More than half of the deaths that occur among people riding in pickup truck cargo beds are children and teenagers. Covered cargo areas, too, can pose a danger to children because of carbon monoxide poisoning from exhaust fumes.
NHTSA recommendations for children riding in trucks
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is campaigning for stricter passenger safety laws nationwide for passengers riding in pickup trucks. Currently, only one state prohibits riding in open beds of pickup trucks and 21 other states have placed certain restrictions on riding in pickup truck open beds. To protect your children, the NHTSA recommends that children never be allowed to ride or play in cargo areas of any vehicles.
A child's nature is to explore his/her surroundings. Unfortunately, this exploration can place a child in danger. Unintentional trunk entrapment, when children lock themselves in a trunk, can be fatal. Between 35 and 40 percent of children ages 14 and under who accidentally lock themselves in a trunk will die due to hyperthermia (heat stroke) and/or asphyxiation (suffocation).
To prevent unintentional trunk entrapment:
- Teach your children not to play in and around vehicles.
- Always lock the vehicle and keep the keys away from children.
- Carefully watch your young children when they are around vehicles.
- Keep rear fold-down seats closed inside the vehicle. Certain automobile manufacturers now include escape releases or sensor systems in trunks. However, small children may not know how to operate these.