Safety seats credited with reducing child deaths in vehicle crashes

By Ashley Halsey III
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, September 23, 2010; 7:36 PM

Motor vehicle crashes remain the leading cause of death for America's children, but use of child seats and booster seats contributed to a decline in the number last year, according to federal statistics released Wednesday.

In 4 percent of the 33,808 traffic fatalities last year, the victims were children 14 or younger, according to the latest numbers from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

The statistics indicated that in 2009, 23 children 14 or younger died in Virginia accidents, 16 died in Maryland and one died in the District. The number of U.S. children killed in that age group - 1,314 - was 3 percent lower than in 2008, even though the total number of roadway miles traveled by Americans increased last year.

An additional 179,000 children were injured in crashes last year, NHTSA said. Traffic incidents caused, on average, four child deaths a day and 490 child injuries.

A survey by the safety agency found that 96 percent of children ages 1 to 3 used child seats in 2009, while 89 percent of those younger than 13 used restraints of some type.

The statistics were presented in conjunction with the annual Child Passenger Safety Week, and federal officials used the event to encourage booster seat use for those in the 4-to 7-year-old age group.

A survey by the safety agency found that 41 percent of children ages 4 to 7 rode in booster seats last year, virtually unchanged from 2008.

"Make no mistake about it: Child safety seats save lives," said U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood. "Children who graduate too soon from their safety seats are at risk of serious injury."

Safety experts recommend that once children outgrow forward-facing seats, usually around age 4 and 40 pounds, they should ride in booster seats until the seat belts in the vehicle fit properly, usually at age 8 or when a child is 4-foot-9.

"We're urging everyone to get their children's safety seats inspected to make sure their kids are properly protected on every trip, every time," said NHTSA Administrator David Strickland.

Stickland said free inspections would be offered at thousands of locations across the country.

All 50 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico have laws requiring the use of safety seats for children traveling in automobiles. Also, 47 states have laws requiring booster-seat use.

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