Car Seat Safety Stats: Car Crashes - The #1 Killer Of Children

The Car Seat Safety Stats: Car Crashes Are The #1 Killer Of Children

car seat statistics buckle up

Child Car Seat Stats: Knowing The Leading Cause of Death To Children

Do you know the car seat statistics show the leading cause of death to children ages 3-14 in the United States is motor vehicle crashes?

In 2017 in the United States, 794 children ages 12 years and younger died as occupants in motor vehicle crashes. (Of all the children who died in a crash in 2017, 37% were not restrained.)

And fatalities represent only the tip of the iceberg. There were more than 128,000 children in this age range who were injured in car crashes.

Many of these injuries and deaths can be prevented. Placing children in age- and size-appropriate car seats and booster seats reduces serious and fatal injuries by more than half.

most common car seat mistakesWhat Do The Child Car Seat Stastics Show?

  • More black (45%) and Hispanic (46%) children were not buckled up compared with white (26%) children (2009-2010).
  • More of the older children (48% of 8-12 year olds) were not buckled up compared with younger children (33% of 4-7 year olds; 21% of children under age 4) in 2016
  • Restraint use among young children often depends upon the driver’s seat belt use. Almost 40% of children riding with unbelted drivers were themselves unrestrained.
  • More than two-thirds of fatally injured children were killed while riding with a drinking driver.

One CDC study found that, in one year, more than 618,000 children ages newborn to 12 rode in vehicles at least some of the time without the use of a restraint be it car seat, booster seat or seat belt.

Are You Using Your Child Car Seat Restraint Safely?

Good you keep your child in a child restraint because obviously it’s safer. Did you know how many restraints are used incorrectly?

Any where from 72% to 84% of child restraints show critical misuses. The most common forms of misuse are using the wrong seat for the child’s age and weight, loose safety belt attachment to the car seat and loose harness straps on the child. This is scary because another statistic says 96% of parents believe their child safety seats are installed correctly. Meanwhile these misuses increase a child’s risk of injury during a crash.

Using The Car Seat Correctly For Child Safety

Using the car seat correctly is important because incorrect use correlates to your child being 3 and a half times more likely to attain a serious injury during a crash.

What about booster age (4-10 year old) children specifically?

NHTSA says booster seat use among 4- to 7-year-old children stood at 46% in 2013, up a mere 3% from 2008. NHTSA’s result is from the National Survey of the Use of Booster Seats (NSUBS), the only probability-based nationwide child restraint survey that observes restraint use and obtains age by interview. The NSUBS found that in 2013, 46% of children ages 4-7 were using booster seats (either high-backed or backless), 33%were not properly restrained; 24% were in seat belts and 9% were unrestrained. This indicates that as many as 33% of children 4 to 7 in the United States were not being properly protected (24% in seat belts and 9% unrestrained).

Compare that to 98% of children under age one and 96% of children from ages 1-3 who were restrained. Why are there so fewer restrained in the booster age range?

Is It Safe For A Child of Age 8 Or Under To No Longer Be Secured?

Maybe because nearly 70% of drivers believe it is safe for child age 8 or under to no longer be secured in a child safety seat or booster seat, as one study states. The good news is this statistic has improved. In 1999 the number of children 4-8 using booster seats was a mere 4% and just back in 2004 it was 27%.

Booster seat misuse is 41%. (That seems like a lot for something that supposed to be easier to use doesn’t it?)

Download our report: Common Car Seat Mistakes and How to Fix Them

How do we get better child car seat statistics?

The good news is the rate of use of child restraints has been improving. In 1999 it was 15%; 2008 it was 80%; 2013 it was 91%. That is good, in and of itself. Studies show child safety seats reduce fatal injury by 71% for infants and 54% for toddlers ages 1-4 and 45% for children ages 4-8. We can improve the statistics more by using the car seats more correctly and not “graduating” children to seat belts too early. That’s where more education comes in.

Child restraints saved the lives of an estimated 284 children under age 5 in 2012.

Plus we can keep children in the rear vehicle seat longer. We reduce the injury risk by 64% for newborn to 8 year olds and 31% for 9-12 year olds by keeping them in the rear seat.

And a big kicker, if we think it’s important enough to buckle ourselves, we’re more likely to buckle our children. As with everything else, they do as we do. If we emphasize keeping our selves buckled, they are more likely to keep themselves buckled especially as they get older. Almost 40% of children riding with unbelted drivers also ride unrestrained.

What about car seat safety for the booster age specifically?

The 2011 recommendations from the American Academy of Pediatrics suggest as best practice: all children whose weight or height is above the forward-facing limit for their car seat use a belt positioning device, like a booster seat or RideSafer® Travel Vest, until the vehicle lap-shoulder belt fits properly or when they pass the 5-step seat belt fit test. Typically the belt will fit properly when the child has reached 4 feet 9 inches and are between 8 and 12 years of age. According to Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) booster seats reduce injury risk by 45% compared to seat belts alone.

As of April 2013, 48 states have “booster seat laws” requiring the use of child restraints, booster seats or other appropriate devices, like the RideSafer, for children who have outgrown their car seats and do not fit correctly in the adult seat belt. The only states without “booster seat” laws are Florida and South Dakota (child restraint required up to age 5). Though Florida did up the age requirement a couple of years ago to age 6 and are state legislators are trying to increase the age again.

(We put “booster seat laws” in quotes because really they are car seat laws that go up through “booster seat” age. And as you have read there are other options rather than just a booster seat.)

Just out of curiosity, how are older children doing when it comes to car safety?

Compared with other age groups, youths 16-24 have the lowest seat belt use rate. In 2011, 82% of teens in the age range wore seat belts. (There are more male than female of those who don’t buckle up.) In fact, in 2011 the majority (58%) of young people 16 to 20 years old involved in fatal crashes were unbuckled.

Guidelines for Parents and Caregivers

  • Use a seat belt on every trip, no matter how short. This sets a good example.
  • Make sure children are properly buckled up in a child restraint, booster seat or seat belt, whichever is appropriate for the car seat stage they are in by age, height and weight.
  • All children younger than 13 years should ride in the back seat. Airbags can kill young children riding in the front seat. Never place a rear-facing car seat in the front seat or in front of an air bag.
  • Place children in the middle of the back seat when possible, because it is the safest spot in the vehicle.
What do you think about the car seat safety stats? Share your comments below.

By Amie Durocher, Creative Director at Safe Ride 4 Kids and certified CPS Tech since 2004

Copyright 2018 Safe Ride 4 Kids. All rights reserved. You may not publish, broadcast, rewrite or redistribute this material without permission. You are welcome to link to Safe Ride 4 Kids or share on social media.

We originally published this post in April 2013 and October 2014. We updated the article with current car seat statistics.

Sources of car seat stats:
  • Safe Kids USA,
  • NHTSA,
  • CDC,
  • CHOP,
  • Governors Highway Safety Association


© amie durocher (2008)
  • Anna
    Posted at 06:43h, 11 March Reply

    Some of the statistics are pretty frightening, especially the one being that 96% of parents believe they are installing the car seats correctly, when in fact 72-84% of the people are misusing car seats!

  • Arnold Larson
    Posted at 13:22h, 23 May Reply

    I’d like to have more context for the statement: “as child safety seats have been shown to reduce fatal injury by 71% for infants and 54% for toddlers ages 1-4 and 45% for children ages 4-8”.
    Can you site the studies that show these numbers and state what the control was?

    • Amie
      Posted at 14:06h, 23 May Reply

      Those stats came from the CDC website on the Risk Reduction tab.

      CDC sites these two studies:
      • Durbin, D. R. (2011). Technical report—Child passenger safety. Pediatrics, 127(4). Advance online publication. doi:10.1542/peds.2011-0215.
      • Arbogast KB, Jermakian JS, Kallan MJ, Durbin DR. Effectiveness of belt positioning booster seats: an updated assessment. Pediatrics 2009;124;1281–6.

  • Drew
    Posted at 17:13h, 08 February Reply

    If it can be fixed, you’ve missed the word “as” in the last paragraph of: How do we get better child car seat safety statistics.
    “…to keep themselves buckled especially (as) they get older.”

    Other than that great article that I’d love to use as a source. I had no idea the stats were so significant in difference since 1999, less than 20 years ago!

    Posted at 11:37h, 28 July Reply

    what about compared to heat related deaths? The numbers in heat related deaths seem to be rising.

    • Amie
      Posted at 11:14h, 29 July Reply

      Hi Rosario, Heat related deaths reached a high number in 2018 of 52 children who died in hot cars. Whereas 794 children ages 0 to 12 died in car crashes in 2017. (Numbers have not been released for 2018 yet.) And an estimated 3,000 pregnancies are lost every year in car crashes. So yes hot car related deaths get a lot of media and the numbers do seem to be rising (average over the years is 38 per year) but it is still dramatically lower than car crash deaths.

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