The Problem: In 2008, 968 children under the age of 15 died from injuries suffered during motor vehicle crashes and approximately 168,000 other children were injured. CDC: Child Passenger Safety Factsheet. The use of child safety seats has been found to substantially reduce the risk of mortality to infants in motor-vehicle accidents (70 percent) and in children ages 1 to 4 years (47 precent to 54 percent). Yet, each year children are injured and killed due to the nonuse or improper use of child safety seats. Zaza S, et al. Recommendations to reduce injuries to motor vehicle occupants increasing child safety seat use, increasing safety belt use, and reducing alcohol-impaired driving. Am J Prev Med. 2001;21(4S):16–22. It is estimated that universal proper child safety seat use could save roughly 160 lives and prevent 20,000 injuries each year. Zaza S, et al. Reviews of evidence regarding interventions to increase use of child safety seats. Am J Prev Med. 2001;21(4S):31-47
The Law: Today, every state has a law requiring children to be restrained in federally-approved child safety seats while riding in motor-vehicles. These laws differ from state to state based on number of factors (e.g., age, height and weight of the children requiring safety seats). All current child safety seat laws allow for primary enforcement, meaning a police officer can stop a driver solely for a violation of such laws. Child restraint/belt use laws: The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, Highway Loss Data Institute. For examples of child safety seat laws, see La. R.S. 32:295 (Louisiana),Tenn. Code Ann. § 55-9-602 (Tennessee), Ala. Code § 32-5-222 (Alabama) and N.J.S. 39:3-76.2a (New Jersey).
The Evidence: In a systematic review, Zaza et al. reviewed nine studies that evaluated the effectiveness of child safety seat laws in reducing rates of childhood motor-vehicle injuries. Zaza S, et al. Reviews of evidence regarding interventions to increase use of child safety seats. Am J Prev Med. 2001;21(4S):31-47. The underlying studies focused on laws that were passed in every state in the United States between the years 1978 and 1986. The reviewers found a 35 percent median reduction in fatal childhood injuries and 17.3 percent reduction in overall motor-vehicle child injuries following the introduction and enforcement of child safety seat laws. The effects of additional requirements in particular states (for example, requiring a particular seating position or providing for harsher penalties) could not be determined from the available studies. The reviewers also identified a 13 percent increase in the use of child safety seat use subsequent to the adoption of child safety seat laws.
The Bottom Line: There is strong evidence to support the effectiveness of child safety seat laws in substantially reducing injuries to children during motor vehicle crashes, according to a Community Guide expert panel.
Additional Resources: Insurance Institute for Highway Safety