February 11, 2003
More children using restraints, but too many in front seat
Washington, D.C. – In the United States, restraint use among young children rose to a record level in 2002, according to estimates from a major survey conducted by the U.S. Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
An estimated 99 percent of infants under age one are now restrained, up 4 percentage points from 2000. Fully 94 percent of toddlers are now restrained, a 3 percentage point gain over two years ago.
The new survey indicates that 83 percent of children ages four to seven are restrained. No comparable statistics are available for this age group from previous NHTSA surveys.
The new data were released today by NHTSA Administrator Jeffrey W. Runge, M.D., during a press conference in Washington to promote Child Passenger Safety Week. The event was sponsored by the Air Bag & Seat Belt Safety Campaign, part of the National Safety Council.
“Children are the most vulnerable passengers riding on America’s roadways. It is extremely good news that more of them are now safely secured,” Dr. Runge said.
However, Dr. Runge indicated serious concern about other findings from the survey, which shows that many young children continue to ride in the front seat.
“Youngsters are at greater risk of severe injury or death when they’re involved in a crash while riding in the front seat,” Dr. Runge said.
An estimated 15 percent of infants under age one now ride in a front seating position; 10 percent of toddlers ages one to three ride in the front; and 29 percent of youngsters ages four to seven do so.
Restraint use estimates are based on the National Occupant Protection Use Survey (NOPUS), conducted periodically by NHTSA. The latest survey was conducted in June 2002 and its results were compared with a prior NOPUS survey done in the fall of 2000, which also tracked child restraint use.
Besides indicating increasing restraint use among infants and toddlers, the latest national survey reached these key findings:
- The link between restraint use of drivers and their child passengers remains strong. More than 90 percent of belted drivers also restrain the children traveling in their vehicles.
- Approximately 70 percent of unbelted drivers restrain their child passengers.
- Male drivers are restraining their children more often than they did two years ago, bringing them to near parity with female drivers. The 2000 survey indicated a seven-percentage-point disparity between men and women. That gap has now been narrowed to about 1 percentage point.
- Parents appear to be more aware of the need for appropriate restraint use based on the age and size of their children. The latest NOPUS survey indicates lower incidence of “premature graduation” in the use of restraint systems. Premature graduation involves transitioning children to the next stage of restraint system use before they are ready in terms of age or size. For example, infants are placed in forward-facing seats too soon, or children are moved from a child safety seat directly to an adult safety belt too soon, bypassing the booster-seat stage.
NHTSA has been gathering NOPUS statistics on restraint use since 1994. The latest numbers were derived from a survey conducted during a 20-day period beginning on June 3, 2002. NHTSA data collectors observed 3,500 children at 1,100 intersections throughout the U.S.
The margin of error of the survey for restraint use among children is plus or minus one percentage point for infants; plus or minus 3.6 percentage points for toddlers; and 5.6 percentage points for children ages four to seven.
The newly released NHTSA statistics are summarized in a research note on the agency’s Web site at http://www.nhtsa.dot.gov/people/injury/childps/ChildRestraints/ChildRestraints.pdf.