In carpools, child booster seat use is 'inconsistent'

Carpool-driving parents are "inconsistent" about using booster seats -- child safety restraints designed for kids who are too big for forward-facing car seats but too small for a regular seat belt to fit them properly -- researchers said Monday.

A team of physicians and public health experts from the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor and the University of Colorado in Denver reviewed data collected from 681 parents of children ages 4 to 8 who had participated in a January 2010 nationwide Web-based survey that included 12 questions on booster seat use.  They found that 76% of those surveyed did use a safety seat when driving their children in the family car. 

But of the 64% of respondents who said they drove a carpool, 20% said that they did not always ask other drivers to use booster seats when driving their kids in a carpool.  And only 55% said that they always make their child use a booster seat when they were driving a carpool in which other children did not have a booster.

Half of parents said they didn't know the age requirement in their state's booster seat law.  Of those who said they did know the ages cited, 29% got the answer right and 20% got it wrong.

The results of the survey, believed to be the first to examine how carpooling affects booster seat usage, were published Monday in the journal Pediatrics.  In their analysis of the data, lead author Dr. Michelle Macy of the University of Michigan and colleagues suggested that social norms are influential in carpooling situations -- and that the presence of seat belt laws helps to shape those social norms. According to the study, 47 states have enacted booster seat laws in the last 10 years.

But until laws catch up with the American Academy of Pediatrics recommendations, which advise that children should stay in booster seats until they're 4'9" in height (tall enough for a seat belt to fit them properly), the authors urged pediatricians to talk with parents and encourage booster seat use.

They also suggested that improvements in booster seat design to make the devices fit better in cars, and easier to install and remove, might improve compliance with recommendations.

In October 2011, Booster Shots reported on the Insurance Institute of Highway Safety's latest booster seat ratings.  The IIHS also provides a state-by-state summary of child restraint laws.

Return to the Booster Shots blog.

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