Reducing Motor Vehicle Deaths in Infants and Children

Dr. David J. Holcombe
Dr. David J. Holcombe

The CDC examined motor vehicle deaths among children in the U.S. from 2006 to 2011.  Every child’s death is an extraordinary tragedy, but when they are preventable, the death becomes an unbearable burden to survivors and a horrific loss to society.


Motor vehicle deaths in children in the U.S. (1.9/100,000) are about double those in other high income European states (0.9/100,000).  It has been established that rear-facing child safety seats to age 2, forward-facing child safety seats to age 5, booster seats to age 8 and adult seatbelts in the back seat to age 13 and beyond all reduce deaths in motor vehicle accidents by at least 35%.  Despite laws requiring child safety seats in all states, age requirements vary, and only 2% of children nationwide are required by law to have child safety seats and booster seats up to age 8.


While only 2% of children and infants are observed to be unrestrained in community studies, unrestrained children and infants represent 22% of deaths in motor vehicle accidents.  The group of unrestrained infants and children varies with ethnic groups, with 90% of restraint use among Whites, 85% among Hispanics and 80% among African-Americans.  Sadly, the death rates among African-American and Hispanic children are significantly higher as well.  This relationship can be correlated with poverty rather than race, since traumatic injuries among children with Medicaid exceed those among infants and children with private insurance.


Stricter and more uniform laws requiring rear-facing safety seats to age 2, forward facing children safety seats to age 5, and boosters in the back seat to age 8 would do a lot to decrease needless deaths.  Since older children do what they see and what they are told, use of seat belts by adolescents and adults of all ages is primordial to compliance.  Add to this a comprehensive education and safety seat distribution program, and most tragic vehicle-related infant and child deaths could be avoided.