In August the figures were published on accident rates in the United States, showing that deaths from traffic accidents increased by 7.8 percent in 2015. Of the 35,092 fatalities from traffic accidents, 7.9 percent were attributed to drivers under the age of 20, and it is this age range – when essentially they are learning to drive - that also showed the biggest increase in accident rates. Of all these fatalities, 6 percent involved children who, generally speaking, were not using a child restraint system properly.
The NHTSA (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration) attributes the increase in traffic accidents to the rise in employment rates in the United States during the past year as well as to the cheaper price of fuel. It is noteworthy that after several years of a falling accident rate, not only did the rate not fall last year but actually increased dramatically, by a proportion that has not been seen since 1966.
As well as these two factors, the NHTSA also attributes the increase in accidents to the higher number of young drivers (accounting for 8 percent of fatalities) and the rise in the number of leisure trips by car.
However, the figures are not as alarming as they were ten years ago, when around 43,000 people died on US roads. The NHTSA attributes the drop in the accident rate to the more widespread use of seat belts (which are not mandatory) and improvements to vehicles. Of all the deaths that occurred in 2015, half of them involved vehicle occupants who were not wearing a seat belt.
The causes of accidents can be blamed to a large extent on human error, one-third of them being caused by drunk drivers or speeding. And one in every ten incidents was related to driver distraction.
Child safety in traffic accidents in the USA in 2015
In the case of children, almost every state has laws for the use of some form of child restraint system in place, although it very much depends on which state you are driving in. The almost generalized use of CRS has meant that child fatalities are dropping steadily, especially when compared to fatality figures for drivers or other vehicle passengers.
However, according to figures from the US Department of Transport, 37 percent of children between the ages of four and seven are still not using child restraint systems correctly. Of these, 28 percent used a seat belt but 11 percent did not use any kind of restraint system whatsoever. According to this information, 13.6 percent of children aged between one and three were not using a child restraint system properly or had moved on to larger seats, which represents a risk because the child is not secured in the same way, causing an increase in injuries and even deaths in the event of an accident.
The NHTSA reminds us that “when children are not strapped in or are in a child seat that is not being used correctly, their safety is endangered”, and they are continuing to roll out campaigns to address this situation, such as Child Passenger Safety Week and National Seat Check Saturday (both held in September). The aim is to raise parents' and caregivers' awareness and improve children's safety when making trips by road.
Children's road safety in Europe
In Europe, the road accident rate is lower than in the United States when figures are adjusted proportionately to the population. While in North America the accident rate is 10.6 per 100,000 inhabitants, in the European Union this figure drops to 9.3.
The reasons for this can be attributed to the mandatory use of seat belts in almost every European country and the regulation of child restraint systems, which have managed to dramatically reduce the number of serious injuries and fatalities in children who use a child seat.
Indeed, in 2014 in Europe there were 25,900 road accident fatalities of whom just 650 were under the age of 15 , according to European Union figures. In most States in the EU the use of child restraint systems is compulsory until at least the age of four, and in many countries it is mandatory until the child has reached a height of 1.20 or 1.50 meters.
The European countries with the highest accident rates are France, Poland and Romania, which by the end of 2014 had recorded almost one hundred child fatalities. However, these deaths cannot be attributed to more permissive child restraint system laws as they are mandatory until the age of ten in France and up to the age of 12 in the other two countries.