Child Passenger Safety: - How to Best Protect Children in Cars

Child Passenger Safety: Fact Sheet

Motor vehicle injuries are the leading cause of death among children in the U.S.1 But many of these deaths can be prevented. Placing children in age- and size-appropriate car seats and booster seats reduces serious and fatal injuries by more than half.2

How big is the problem?

  • In the United States during 2005, 1,335 children ages 14 years and younger died as occupants in motor vehicle crashes, and approximately 184,000 were injured. That’s an average of 4 deaths and 504 injuries each day.2
  • Among children under age 5, in 2006, an estimated 425 lives were saved by car and booster seat use.2

What are the risk factors?

  • One out of four occupant deaths among children ages 0 to 14 years involved a drinking driver.3 More than two-thirds of these fatally injured children were riding with a drinking driver.4
  • Restraint use among young children often depends upon the driver’s seat belt use. Almost 40% of children riding with unbelted drivers were themselves unrestrained.5
  • Child restraint systems are often used incorrectly. One study found that 72% of nearly 3,500 observed car and booster seats were misused in a way that could be expected to increase a child’s risk of injury during a crash.6

How can injuries to children in motor vehicles be prevented?

  • Child safety seats reduce the risk of death in passenger cars by 71% for infants, and by 54% for toddlers ages 1 to 4 years.2
  • There is strong evidence that child safety seat laws, safety seat distribution and education programs, community-wide education and enforcement campaigns, and incentive-plus-education programs are effective in increasing child safety seat use.7
  • The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration recommends booster seats for children until they are at least 8 years of age or 4'9" tall.8
  • According to researchers at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, for children 4 to 7 years, booster seats reduce injury risk by 59% compared to seat belts alone.9
  • All children ages 12 years and younger should ride in the back seat. Adults should avoid placing children in front of airbags. Putting children in the back seat eliminates the injury risk of deployed front passenger-side airbags and places children in the safest part of the vehicle in the event of a crash.
  • Overall, for children less than 16 years, riding in the back seat is associated with a 40% reduction in the risk of serious injury.10 To learn more about effective interventions to increase child safety seat use, visit CDC's Motor Vehicle Occupant Safety page.