Has your family or someone you know suffered the unspeakable tragedy of a child killed in a car accident? If so, the victim is far from alone. In fact, car accidents are the #1 killer of children in America.
How many children die in car accidents? Appallingly, an average of 11 each week, according to a recent study published in the New York Times.
The study found that 2,885 children under the age of 15 died in motor vehicle collisions across the nation from 2010 to 2014. That total did not even count children who were pedestrians struck by vehicles, or were riding in a trailer or non-enclosed cargo area, or were in bicycle or motorcycle accidents.
The new car wreck study was conducted in part in Texas. Researchers were at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas as well as Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston. Their findings were first published in The Journal of Pediatrics.
The researchers’ chief data source was the Fatality Analysis Reporting System maintained by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
Their data shows that most children killed in car accidents were not properly restrained, even though child restraints are required by law in Texas and across the country. Of children killed in car wrecks, more than 40 per cent were improperly restrained or not restrained at all (meaning they weren’t secured in a child seat or wearing seatbelts).
At least 15 per cent of children killed nationwide were sitting in the front seat. That’s also against Texas law — even if the child wears a seatbelt — if the child is less than 100 pounds or 57 inches tall (4 feet, 9 inches). In fact, Texas law requires that children must be secured in child safety seats in the back seat if they are less than 8 years old and under 57 inches tall.
The Texas Department of Public Safety says children must have a rear-facing safety seat appropriate to the child’s weight and height if they are under 1 year old. Also known as infant seats, these are locked into a base installed in the vehicle.
Installation is crucial. Many parents dutifully purchase car safety seats for their children, but these do little good if they aren’t properly installed. A child who rides in a safety seat is not necessarily safe.
Children 1 to 4 years old need a larger “toddler seat,” the DPS says, which should be rear-facing until children are 2. Children 4 to 8 years old then need a “booster seat” to give them a boost in height while wearing a car’s seat belts, which are designed for adults. When a child reaches 100 pounds or 57 inches, they only need adult seat belts.
In Texas, fines for failing to secure children properly in vehicles start at $25 for a first offense and rise to as much as $250 for subsequent offenses.
Though Texas is an urban state with large cities such as Houston, Dallas and San Antonio and over 27 million residents, it’s also a sprawling state with thousands of miles of rural roads. It may surprise you that rural roads are the most dangerous for children.
Two-thirds of child traffic deaths nationwide happen on rural roads, says the Federal Highway Administration.
Why? Factors include farther distances to trauma centers, inadequate lighting on rural roads and the fact that rural drivers tend to drive faster than city dwellers, who often have no choice but to slow down in heavy traffic.
The new study also found that 13 percent of children killed in car crashes were passengers in vehicles driven by a person under the influence of alcohol. But the most important thing it found was that restraints are vital to prevent the tragedy of a child killed in a car accident.
In a sense, that’s nothing new. Researchers at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have long held that securing children properly in car seats can lower the risk of death by 71 per cent for infants 1 year or younger and by 54 per cent for children 1 to 4 years old.
Yes, car accidents are the #1 child killer in America. But many such deaths are preventable.
Jim Adler & Associates urges everyone to ensure that children are protected on our roads. That starts with using child safety seats which are properly installed.