Are You Making Deadly Car Mistakes?

Many parents are letting their young kids ride alongside them in the front seat or improperly buckling up their kids when they sit in the back. And the result is, millions of kids are regularly placed at greater risk of serious injury or death, new studies show.

If you allow your child to ride in the front seat of the car, you are putting her life at risk. If you use your child's car seat incorrectly, you are putting his life at risk. Many parents have heard these statements and understand them. So why are so many still not listening?

Results of a new national public opinion survey show that parents report placing an estimated 3.3 million children ages 0-12 -- or six percent of all children in that age group -- in the front seat, placing them at greater risk of serious injury or death.

"The back seat is a much safer place for children than the front seat, and we have been working for years to get that message out," said National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) Chairman Ellen Engleman Conners. "Clearly there is more work to do to make sure parents have the message and act on that message -- children are safer in a rear seat."

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), parents are putting 15 percent of infants, 10 percent of toddlers ages 1-3, and 29 percent of children ages 4-7 in the front seat. Analysis shows 32 percent of all child car-crash fatalities are among children riding in the front.

Safety groups, including the NTSB and the American Academy of Pediatrics, recommend that children 12 and under ride properly restrained in rear seats. That includes infants in rear-facing seats, children in convertible seats, children in booster seats, and children restrained by seat belts.

And parents appear to be getting the message -- at least about restraining them. The NHTSA reports that child restraint use has increased considerably since the mid-1990s, up to 71.5 percent from 51 percent for children weighing 60 pounds or less.

But, many of these restraints are not being used correctly. In an alarming study, 73 percent of the 5,527 child passengers weighing less than 80 pounds that NHTSA surveyed were in restraints that were improperly used.

The most common critical abuses were loose harness straps securing the child, and a loose vehicle safety belt attachment to the child restraint.

"Child safety seats are very effective when used properly," said NHTSA Administrator Jeffrey W. Runge, M.D. "Parents and caregivers should take time to understand how to better protect children of all ages."

The study also found a positive relationship between parents who wore seat belts and children being restrained: 92 percent of the children who were transported by them were restrained, compared to only 62 percent of the children transported by unbelted drivers. So buckle up!

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