The University Record, October 29, 1997

Study shows most children incorrectly
secured in child safety car seats

News and Information Services writer Bernie DeGroat checks the harness that holds his son Justin firmly in his own child safety seat. A recent U-M study showed that 90 percent of the children who ride in safety seats are not properly secured in them. The study also showed that about 25 percent of Michigan¹s children who should be riding in the seats are not. Photo by Rebecca Doyle

By Bernie DeGroat
News and Information Services

Nearly a quarter of young children riding in motor vehicles on Michigan roads are not fastened in child safety seats and of those who are, nearly 90 percent are improperly secured, according to a U-M study.

"Great strides still need to be made to ensure the safety of children traveling in motor vehicles," says researcher David W. Eby of the Transportation Research Institute. "Our results show that drivers have fairly good knowledge of Michigan's mandato ry child safety seat law, but a significant portion of the state's population is not using child safety seats. What's more, nine out of 10 children are either in a safety seat that is installed incorrectly or are improperly placed in it."

In their study of more than 1,200 children under age 4 riding in passenger cars, pickup trucks, sport utility vehicles, and vans and minivans, Eby and colleagues Lidia P. Kostyniuk and Carl Christoff found that child safety seat use is higher in vehic les driven by women (75 percent vs. 67 percent) and in which the driver wears a safety belt (81 percent vs. 52 percent).

"While not surprising, these results suggest that continued efforts to increase safety belt use will also increase the frequency with which a child safety seat is used," Eby says.

Perhaps the study's most alarming--but not surprising--finding, he says, is that only 10 of the 87 drivers interviewed in a separate pilot test on child safety seat misuse had both the safety seat properly installed in the vehicle and the child placed correctly in the seat.

Eby found that about two-thirds of the drivers in the study's sub-sample made at least one mistake in placing the child safety seat in the vehicle and about three-fourths made at least one error in placing the child in the safety seat itself.

The most common problems, he says, are related to snugness of fit--securing the seat to the vehicle and strapping the child in the seat.

"Because of seat padding and some vehicle designs, it can be difficult or impossible to tightly attach the child safety seat," Eby says. "Parents should check on the compatibility of the safety seat with the design of the vehicle before purchasing ei ther one.

"On the other hand, the harness strap is fairly easy to use and to tighten. It may be that parents are reluctant to tighten the harness so tightly that their children cannot move about. Public information and education programs should highlight the dangers of not adequately securing the child in the seat."

Other common types of child safety seat misuse are related to the use of the safety belt locking clip and the harness positioning clip--neither of which is easily corrected through verbal instruction, but instead, seem to require hands-on demonstratio n, he says.

Other problems include having the safety seat's harness at an incorrect position relative to the child's shoulders, having more than three inches of seat movement in any direction, incorrectly routing the safety belt through the seat and, for infant s eats, not using the seat's base and leaving the carrying handle in an upright position.

"Our study provides a starting point for the statewide assessment of child-occupant protection in Michigan," Eby says. "The 'misuse' portion of the study, while only a pilot test, shows the marked problems associated with child safety seat use and pr ovides tantalizing findings that could be invaluable for constructing educational programs to improve proper use of such seats."

Eby says that those interested in learning how to properly use a child safety seat should attend a hands-on, instructional session offered by local community health departments and pediatricians.

Data for the study was collected last summer by researchers observing motorists at 88 pediatric clinics and day care centers in Michigan's 28 most populous counties.