Although collision-related deaths of children 12 years old and younger dropped 43 percent between 2002 and 2011, new figures from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that more than 9,000 children died from crashes during those years. And many weren't using car seats or seat belts.
"We have made a lot of progress in reducing motor vehicle fatalities in the U.S. in the past decade, but still there are far too many deaths," CDC director Tom Frieden said during a noon press briefing.
"These are troubling numbers, especially since so many of these deaths could have been prevented by buckling children in age- and size-appropriate child restraints -- car seats, booster seats and seat belts -- on every trip," Frieden said.
The problem is particularly severe among black and Hispanic children, Frieden said.
The CDC found that 45 percent of black children and 46 percent of Hispanic children who died in crashes in 2009-2010 were not properly buckled in. Among whites, 26 percent weren't using appropriate restraints.
One reason for this disparity is economic, Frieden said. "There can be difficulty paying for a car seat or an appropriately sized car seat," Frieden said. Some communities make car seats and booster seats available to those who can't afford them, he added, noting the CDC supports such programs.
Erin Sauber-Schatz, leader of the transportation safety team in CDC's division of unintentional injury prevention, said more needs to be done to protect young passengers. In 2011, more than 650 children 12 and under were killed in crashes, she noted.
"That's more than a dozen children every week," she said. "Too many child passengers are riding unprotected."
Sauber-Schatz credited safer cars and safer child restraints with much of the overall decline in crash-related deaths of children.
Another factor, Frieden noted, is that more states have graduated driver licenses. "We have fewer teenagers driving unsafely on the road, and that's made both their cars and the roads in general safer," he said.
Other report highlights:
- Only two out of every 100 children live in states that mandate car seats or booster seats for children age 8 and under.
- Child restraint laws result in more children being buckled up. A recent study showed that in five states that tightened their laws, car seat use tripled and deaths and serious injuries dropped 17 percent.
The CDC recommends:
- Using car seats, booster seats, and seat belts on every trip, no matter how short.
- Rear-facing car seats from birth up to age 2 or until the child reaches the upper weight or height limit of the seat.
- Using a forward-facing car seat from age 2 up to at least 5 years.
- Using a booster seat from age 5 and up until seat belts fit properly. The recommended height for proper seat belt fit is 57 inches tall. Seat belts fit properly when the lap belt is across the upper thighs (not the stomach) and the shoulder belt is across the chest (not the neck).
- Installing car seats according to the owner's manual or with help from a certified safety technician.
- Buckling children aged 12 and under in the back seat.
A Florida safety expert said it's unconscionable for parents to ignore the recommendations. "There is no excuse for parents not putting the child in restraints," said Malvina Duncan, a child passenger safety instructor at Miami Children's Hospital.
"It's just changing a mindset that 'it's not going to happen to me.' That is just a poor excuse. Parents have to do the right thing," she said.
Duncan also said laws need to be stricter across the country. "It is embarrassing that Florida is only one of two states that doesn't have a booster seat law," she said.
For the report, CDC researchers analyzed 2002-2011 data from the Fatality Analysis Reporting System.
The findings are published in the CDC's February edition of Vital Signs.
For more about keeping kids safe in the car, visit the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.