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Child safety in car accidents

Nobody likes to hear about injuries to children and reading about the death of a child can be an emotional experience. As a society, we hold our children dear and do everything we can to protect them through our laws. But when it comes to our behavior behind the wheel, too many people drive as if safety is of no consideration when their children are in the back seat. 

Statistically, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety reports that in a typical year (we'll use 2015 for our purposes here), America loses more than 600 of our children under the age of 13 due to motor vehicle accidents. While that number reflects more than a 50 percent reduction from the horrendous 1,300 we were losing 30 years earlier, it still represents the heartbreak of too many of our families, friends and colleagues confronted by the sudden and devastating loss of one of their kids.

Seat belts save lives, especially children's lives

While all 50 states now have laws mandating the use of safety restraints for children, only 17 states require a child under 12 to ride in the back seat. Even in states with strict laws requiring elevated child seats, there are a considerable number of people who choose not to deal with the hassle. Over the past several years, approximately 40 percent of children who died in motor vehicle accidents were unrestrained.

While seatbelt usage for children has fortunately increased, they are still not a panacea for preventing fatalities altogether, though. In 2015, up to 58 percent of all children were restrained at the time of the crash; hopefully a positive indicator of the increased use of seat belts over the years.

Where we put them in the car matters

Several years ago, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) published a comprehensive record of how children were getting injured in car accidents. The statistics are revealing because they can teach us a lot about proper use of seat belts and other restraints, as well as the safest place to buckle your child into a car.

According to the report Children Injured in Motor Vehicle Traffic Crashes, six percent of children aged infant to 3 years were riding in the front passenger seat at the time of the crash. The number jumps to 14 percent for children older than 4 years of age. It is easy to imagine many parents acquiescing to "older" children's demands to ride in the front seat for short trips.

Statistically, more than six percent of children aged 0 - 7 who were riding in the front seat suffered incapacitating injuries, compared to just over three percent who were riding in a rear passenger seat in the same kind of collision.

Is there a lesson in these statistics?

Mark Twain is famously quoted as saying, "There are lies. There are damned lies. Then there are statistics." While it's true that statistics don't -- or can't -- tell the whole story, there is enough evidence to inform us that child restraints save lives in the large percentage of car accidents in which a child is present. And it matters a great deal where the child was sitting when the accident occurred.

So let's start doing the responsible thing as parents and grandparents: Buckle up your young kids in the rear seat, where they will be safest.

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