Automobile accidents are a leading cause of death and injury for American children. Approximately 500 of the nearly 19.5 million children in the five to nine year-old age group die in automobile accidents. About 100,000 more are injured in automobile crashes each year. Although the fatality rate has decreased for other age groups in the same time period, the fatality rate in automobile crashes for this age group has remained constant over the past twenty years. That is why this particular age group is sometimes known as “the forgotten child;” they have outgrown toddler-sized child safety seats but do not yet fit into adult safety belts properly. Despite this problem, neither government nor industry has made concerted efforts to address the safety needs of children ages five to nine.
Booster seats are one answer to this problem; they provide a proper safety belt fit. Booster seats lift children up off vehicle seats. This improves the fit of the adult safety belt on children. If used properly, boosters should also position the lap belt portion of the adult safety belt across the child’s legs or pelvic area. An improper fit of an adult safety belt can expose a child to abdominal or neck injury because the lap belt rides up over the stomach and the shoulder belt cuts across the neck. When a child is restrained in an age-appropriate child safety seat, booster seat, or safety belt, his or her chance of being killed or seriously injured in a car crash is greatly reduced.
The facts about booster seat laws are sobering. For example, only seven states have booster seat laws: Arkansas, California, New Jersey, Oregon, Rhode Island, South Carolina, and Washington. Thirty-three states and the District of Columbia require all children up to age 16 to be restrained in every seating position. The other states require child re-straint systems for children up to ages two, three, or four, with a few more requiring the use of safety belts after the age of four. According to some estimates, as many as 630 additional children’s lives would be saved and 182,000 serious injuries prevented every year if the states closed all the gaps in their child occupant protection laws and all children—ages birth to fifteen years old—were properly restrained.