Our concern for the safety of children traveling in cars is universal. While in Spain we have a Road Safety Law which has been modified to ensure that children travel more safely in the back seats of vehicles (you can see all the details in the the article “Changes in the General Road Safety Law”), other countries are also rolling out all kinds of campaigns in support of the correct use of child restraint systems.
However, there is still a considerable number of parents who are not using child restraint systems properly, either because they don't use them at all, or, if they do use them, they do so incorrectly; or if they use the right model, there is some problem when it comes to affixing the harnesses or fitting the CRS.
The NHTSA (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration), the government agency in charge of road safety in the USA, has published an exhaustive study on the use of CRS in the United States and the results could not be more surprising, as a high percentage of children aged 4 to 7 years old are not being properly secured, and a staggering 11.6 percent of children are traveling without any form of restraint at all, not even a seat belt.
According to the Administrative Director of the NHTSA, Mark Rosekind: “When children are not properly secured, or travel in a seat that is not being used correctly, their safety is endangered. Each and every one of us can take action by ensuring that our children are securely seated in the right child seats for their size and age."
In the 4-7 age group, the questions are the same in the United States as in Spain: when to use a booster cushion, which system is best for children in this age group, and until what age they should be used before moving on to a seat belt. There is definitely a risk involved in this respect as the move from one restraint system to another is an important one and not all children grow at the same rate, so it is impossible to give a hard-and-fast rule and even less to establish a specific date for this changeover.
In the annual NHTSA survey on the use of booster cushions (and this definition includes Group 2/3 CRS with back and side support), the figures are striking.
Some 37.4 percent of children aged 4-7 are not secured by the right restraint system when traveling by car. Of these children, 25.8 percent use a seat belt and 11.6 percent use no form of restraint whatsoever.
Furthermore, 13.6 percent of children aged 1-3 were traveling in the wrong seat for their age group as they had moved on to a booster cushion too early. This practice involves a considerable risk, as at these ages the muscles of the neck and back are not fully developed and in addition booster cushions cannot perform their intended function due to the height of these children, putting them at additional risk as the seat belt is not properly in place.
Generally speaking, the use of child restraint systems is lower in certain minority ethnic groups, this being the case of the Hispanic and Afro-American communities, with minimal restraint system usage rates among the 8-12 age group. However, leaving aside the differences between population groups, what is really worrying is that doubts about child restraint systems from certain ages are common and widespread, making it essential to make additional efforts to spread the word through awareness-raising campaigns on a national level to ensure this information reaches everyone and that people understand the importance of being properly secured whatever the age of the child.