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1 in 4 parents has driven without buckling up children, survey finds

Sep. 19, 2013 at 10:56 AM ET

When Julie Kleinert’s children were young, she insisted they sat in their car seats—no matter how short of a car ride. Even if she moved her car from one parking lot to an adjacent one, everyone was buckled up. While the kids sometimes argued against restraints, she held fast.

**COMMERCIAL IMAGE** In this photograph taken by AP Images for Dorel Juvenile Group, Child safety expert Kimberlee Mitchell, left, installs a car seat...
David Goldman / AP
Even in a small fender bender, children can become gravely injured if they are not buckled up, experts say.

And it worked. If she even started to pull out of the driveway without everyone being secure in their car seats, her four children and step-children—John, now 40, Chad, now 37, Alex, now 24, and Amanda, now 22—chided her.

“[They would] say ‘Mom, I’m not buckled yet!’ They learned it was important to me,” says Kleinert, North American child safety technical lead for General Motors.

“They are very uncomfortable when they are not buckled.”

While parents have been increasingly securing their children in car seats, a new report shows that one in four admits to failing to buckle up their kids at one point or another. The findings are based on a national online survey of more than 1,000 parents and caregivers.

“As a parent, I have to say it doesn’t surprise me because parenting is not always the easiest thing,” says Kate Carr, president of Safe Kids Worldwide, which partnered with the General Motors Foundation to publish the report, “Buckle Up: Every Ride, Every Time.”

“One in four has been enough to generate enough of a wow factor to shine the spotlight on [the importance of buckling] and remind everyone that it is important to buckle up every ride, every time.”

Parents with graduate degrees are twice as likely to say it is okay to not secure their child in a car seat compared to parents with a high school education. Meanwhile, one in three more affluent parents believe it is acceptable to not buckle if they are not driving far, compared to 15 percent of parents making less than $35,000.

Younger parents and dads were also more likely to flout the rules.

Carr presents a hypothesis as to why some do not always secure their kids: “It might be that they think their car is safer, that they think they are better drivers.”

The reasons that parents give for not buckling their kids -- it’s a short trip, I want to reward them, or it’s an overnight trip and the kids need to be comfortable -- seem just as surprising to experts.

“Most car accidents [where kids are injured or killed] happen within 10 minutes of your house,” says Dr. Richard So, a pediatrician at Cleveland Clinic Children’s, who was not associated with the study. The report notes that 60 percent of crashes involving children occur within 10 minutes from home.

“If [children] are in a car seat, [they] are in the safest place in the car that is moving.”

Even in a small fender bender, children can become gravely injured, explains So. A seatbelt or car seat prevents a child from being launched into the air, which could cause head injuries, such as concussions, or fatalities. According to the study, a third of the 679 children who died in car crashes in 2011 were not restrained.

“Kids are dying in crashes and they are not in their car seats and not restrained. And a lot of this could have been prevented if they were buckled,” Kleinert says.

“It only takes one [accident] for it to change a life.”