Earlier this year, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration unveiled results from the National Occupant Protection Use Survey. The survey examined the everyday use of seat belts and other safety restraints, with an entire section dedicated to car safety for kids.
On the whole, the results of the survey were encouraging, but as you'll see, there's still plenty of room for improvement.
METHODOLOGY & FINDINGS
The data for the latest National Occupant Protection Use Survey comes from 2011. That year, researchers fanned out across the country to cover 1,356 intersections, where they logged information on 38,215 vehicles containing 54,475 occupants. Data was collected only while vehicles were stopped at traffic lights or stop signs.
That would seem to make for a fairly solid study, though there's one major caveat to consider: researchers didn't actually interview drivers or passengers, they only observed them from a distance. With regard to things like seatbelt usage, that's not much of a problem, but when it comes to subjective assessments of occupants' age or race, the approach seems a little dicey.
With that in mind, here are some of the study's major findings about children and safety restraints:
- Overall, the percentage of children (perceived to be) under the age of eight who were wearing safety belts or buckled into car seats rose in 2011. In fact, researchers noted that 91% of kids in that age group were secured, the first time that the survey has ever recorded a score above 90%. (The lowest points were in 2004 and 2005, when restraint usage fell to 82%, down from 88% in 2002.)
- On average, 94% of kids younger than eight years old were spotted riding in the back seat. (That's pretty remarkable, since only nine states require children to do so.) Among kids below the age of three, the average was slightly higher.
- Folks out West were most diligent in buckling up their kids, with 96% doing so. The Northeast followed close behind at 94%, and the Midwest came in third at 90%. Drivers in the South performed the worst, with only 84% bothering to restrain Junior on the road.
- Drivers of vans and SUVs were most safety-conscious, with 97% strapping in their kids before hitting the highway. Owners of passenger cars came in a full ten points behind, at 87%. Pickup truck owners came in at the bottom, with only 83% buckling up the rugrats -- a slide of 1% from 2010.
- The worst performers -- the least safety-minded of all -- were drivers who weren't wearing seatbelts themselves. Folks who'd buckled up made sure their kids did the same 95% of the time. Among those who hadn't strapped in, though, only 67% used child restraints.
- Perhaps the most alarming data concerns kids riding in the front seat, which is unsafe for young people, even when they're wearing seatbelts. Children in back seats were restrained 93% of the time, but only 72% of those up front were buckled in -- a slide of 9% from 2010.
There's a lot more data where those figures came from. You can check out the complete PDF by clicking here.