A new report says 20 percent of child deaths in car accidents could be prevented if kids were properly strapped into car seats, booster seats, or seat belts.
child buckling seat belt
Credit: ByoungJoo Yi/Shutterstock 

According to new traffic accident research from UT Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas and Harvard Medical School, one in every five children killed in car crashes in the United States was unrestrained or improperly restrained.

The study authors analyzed nationwide data on nearly 2,900 traffic crash deaths involving children under the age of 15 between 2010 and 2014, and found that 13 percent of crash victims were inappropriately placed in the front seat.

Why are we still not getting car seat safety right?

Some parts of the country fared far worse than others. The South had 1,550 deaths and a death rate of 1.34 per 100,000 children per year. The Midwest had 585 deaths and a death rate of 0.89 per 100,000 children per year. The West had 561 deaths and a death rate of 0.76 per 100,000 children per year. And the Northeast had 189 child deaths and a death rate of 0.38 per 100,000 children per year.

States with the most deaths included: Texas, California, Florida, North Carolina, Georgia, and Alabama. And states with the fewest deaths were: Rhode Island, Alaska, Delaware, New Hampshire, Vermont, Maine, and Hawaii.

"This geographic variation is important because laws regarding child traffic safety remain within the statedom," explained senior study author Dr. Faisal Qureshi. "The significant state-level variation evident in our findings emphasizes the need for close collaboration between the injury prevention community and those enacting and enforcing legislation."

Dr. Qureshi and his colleagues predict that just a 10 percent improvement in child-restraint use in vehicles would cut the national child crash fatality rate significantly, to about 232 deaths a year.

To help keep kids safe, follow these guidelines from the CDC:

  • Whenever kids are in the car, make sure they are strapped securely into age- and size-appropriate car seats, booster seats, or seat belts.
  • From birth to 2, kids should ride in a rear-facing car seat (or until they reach the upper height or weight limit of the seat).
  • From age 2 to at least 5, kids should ride in a front-facing car seat.
  • When a child reaches the upper height or weight limit of the front-facing seat, he or she should ride in a booster seat until the seat belt fits properly. The seat belt fits properly when the lap belt lays across the upper thighs (not the stomach) and the shoulder belt lays across the chest (not the neck).
  • Install car seats and booster seats according to the owner's manual, and get help installing them from a Child Passenger Safety Technician.
  • All children younger than 13 should ride in the back seat of the car (the middle seat is safest). Air bags can kill young children riding in the front seat.
  • Set a good example by wearing your seat belt every time you're in the car, no matter how short the trip.

Visit the CDC's site for more info on car seat safety.

Hollee Actman Becker is a freelance writer, blogger, and mom of two who writes about parenting and pop culture. Check out her website holleeactmanbecker.com for more, and then follow her on Instagram and Twitter.