Study: Racial Gaps Exist in Car-Seat Usage

By Chris Hoenig

Children from underrepresented groups don’t use the proper car seat as often as white children do, according to a study out of the University of Michigan.

Researchers found that white parents were three to four times more likely to report using age-appropriate child safety seats than parents from underrepresented groups. But the survey, which included 600 parents of kids aged 1 through 12, struggled to explain the reasons for the racial disparities. “We expected that differences in family income, parental education and sources of information would explain the racial disparities in age-appropriate restraint use, and they did not,” lead author Dr. Michelle L. Macy told Reuters Health. Most parents said they got their information from instruction manuals or by “just figuring it out,” and social norms could be one reason for the disparities, she said

Disparities were also seen when it came to parents of kids aged 4 through 7 allowing the children to sit in the front seat. About 10 percent of all kids that age sit in the front seat, according to the survey, but white parents were only half as likely to allow children that age up front. Close to 3 percent of kids under age 4 ever sit in the front passenger seat, as do more than one-third of kids aged 8 to 12.

Experts say all children under age 13 should ride in the backseat. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also suggest that kids under 4’9″ use booster seats, a recommendation made into law in Michigan for kids ages 4 through 7. The law there also requires a car seat for children under 4 years old.

“Booster seats are extremely important,” Dr. Mark R. Zonfrillo of the Center for Injury Research and Prevention at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, who was not involved in the study, told Reuters Health. “Our previous research has shown that booster seats reduce the risk of injury in a crash by 45 to 59 percent compared to seat belts alone.”

The researchers found that less than 30 percent of the kids under 4’9″ and in the 8-to-12 age range were using a booster seat, even though they are required to by law.

Macy said she finds that there are conflicting messages about when parents should transition from one seat to another, but that it is key that the proper restraints are being used. “When I care for children injured in car crashes in the emergency department, parents generally thought they were doing everything they could to keep their child safe,” she said. “Many parents prematurely move their child into a booster seat or seat belt based on outdated recommendations that are supported by state laws for child passenger safety.”

The American Academy of Pediatrics released its recommendations in 2011, which put a bigger emphasis on the child’s height over his or her age. Laws for child seat use vary by state and don’t always align with these recommendations.

The study is published in the journal Pediatrics.

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