Feb. 4, 2014 at 1:02 PM ET
Better car seats, air bags and seat belts have helped cut the number of children who die in car crashes by 43 percent since 2002, federal researchers say. But more than 9,000 children died in car crashes over the past decade and fully a third of them weren’t wearing seat belts.
The report highlights the need for parents to enforce car seat and seat belt use. Everyone should wear a seat belt every time they get into a car, and kids need to use booster seats or car seats until they’re at least 8, and stay in the back seat until they are 13, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says.
“No child should die in a motor vehicle crash because they were not properly buckled up and yet, sadly, it happens hundreds of times each year in the U.S.," CDC Director Dr. Tom Frieden said in a statement. “Many of these tragedies are preventable when parents use age-and size-appropriate child restraints every time their child rides in a motor vehicle.”
CDC’s report looks at data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration on road deaths from 2002 to 2011. It can take a few years to gather the data from police reports, so that’s the latest available.
NHTSA found that only 2 percent of babies under a year old ever ride without a car seat. But 22 percent of babies killed in car crashes weren’t in one.
“Based on National Highway Traffic Safety Administration calculations, an estimated 3,308 lives were saved by child safety seat use among children aged 0–4 years during 2002–2011,” the report reads. “If child safety seats were used in motor vehicles 100 percent of the time for children aged 0–4 years, an additional 837 lives could have been saved.”
The report doesn’t look at reasons for the decrease, but CDC’s Erin Sauber-Schatz says the economy may have contributed. Other data shows people drive less frequently and made shorter trips during the recent recession.
“”We know that car seats have gotten safer,” Sauber-Schatz told reporters on a conference call. “Cars themselves have gotten safer.”
“In the last decade, we've seen a significant increase in the use of restraints for kids in cars, from 88 percent to 91 percent,’ CDC’s Ileana Arias told NBC News in an interview.
“Not surprisingly, during that same time, we've seen a significant decrease — a 43 percent decline — in deaths among kids in car crashes.”
The best opportunities for saving lives lie with older children. “Older children were less likely to be buckled than younger children,” Frieden said. That means using a booster seat until children can safely be buckled in with a seat belt alone, usually when they are 57 inches or 4 feet, 9 inches tall.
Highway deaths in the United States have been falling steadily but still, nearly 34,000 people died in traffic accidents in 2012.
Among them, families like 39-year-old Eid Shahad of Columbus, Ohio and his wife and four kids aged 2 to 16. They were all killed last October when a police cruiser hit their car. None were wearing seat belts.
The CDC report found hints that socioeconomic status and ethnic differences might account for many of the deaths. Black children were far more likely than white children to die in car crashes, the report found.
For instance, in 2009-2010, more than 1,400 kids 12 and under died in motor vehicle crashes, which makes for a rate of 1.3 deaths per 100,000 children that age. African-American children died at almost double this rate: 2 deaths per 100,000.
The study found that 45 percent of black and Hispanic children who died in crashes were not buckled up, compared to 26 percent of white children.
“In a study of trauma patients, children insured with Medicaid were more likely to be black, and were less likely to be restrained than those with private insurance, suggesting that economically disadvantaged children might be less likely to be restrained,” the report says.
The U.S. doesn’t compare well with other developed countries when it comes to auto deaths. U.S. children die in vehicle crashes at a rate of 1.9 per 100,000 kids, 14 and younger. The rate’s half that in Norway and it’s just 1.1 per 100,000 in Canada, and plummets to just 0.5 per 100,000 in Britain.
All 50 states require child safety seats for infants and children but the rules vary. And Florida and South Dakota do not require booster seats for kids who have outgrown full child seats.