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 NHTSA Releases CR Usage and Fatality Statistics for Children

   During Child Passenger Safety Week, September 19-25, U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood held a press conference to showcase the current state of child passenger protection and urge families to have their CRs checked.  He announced that NHTSA’s 2009 fatality/injury data showed a three-percent drop in fatalities due to traffic crashes (including bicycle- and pedestrian-vehicle incidents) among children under age 15, compared to the year before, as shown in Traffic Safety Facts 2009: Children.  Crash injuries to children also decreased overall, by 7 percent.
   When bicycle and pedestrian incidents are removed, however, the data show that the toll to child vehicle passengers has actually not dropped since 2008.  In fact, the number of fatalities in each of the last two years was identical-—a total of 996 child occupants under age 15 died in crashes, an average of four children each day.  Among the fatally injured children, 46 percent were unrestrained.
   Alcohol played a role in 14 percent (181) of traffic crashes in which children under age 15 died; in half of those cases the children were passengers in a vehicle driven by a person with a blood alcohol level of 0.08 or higher.
   At the press conference, Secretary LaHood also announced the latest report on CR usage, the 2009 National Study of the Use of Booster Seats (NSUBS), which is based on observations and interviews.  It shows some improvements in general restraint use for some age groups, but the overall rate for child passengers under age 13 was 89 percent, unchanged from 2008.
    Although the national media widely reported the summary numbers of child fatalities and occupant restraint use in rosy terms, LaHood pointed out the fact that many children still are not using the types of CRs appropriate for them. He cautioned: “Children who graduate* too soon from their safety seats are at risk of serious injury.”  The details of the study illuminate the problem of premature transition,* as shown in the table below.








RF Child






FF Child






Belt-Positioning Booster (%)




Belt (%)


No Restraint (%)


% Not Using Appropriate Restraint Type


Under Age 1 or under 20 pounds














21 - 40 pounds














41 - 60 pounds














61 + pounds












14 - 93*

* The portion of children over 60 lbs. observed riding  in a seat belt inappropriately is unknown

   The report also showed that booster seat use was stagnant among children ages 4 to 7, at 41 percent, with an additional 14 percent using FF CRs.  However, fully 32 percent in that age range were already using seat belts, and 13 percent were unrestrained.
   Other NHTSA research mentioned in the 2009 NSUBS explored the effects of early transition from CRs to booster seats for children ages 3 to 4. It found a significantly lower risk of injury for children in CRs than for those in booster seats. Staying in booster seats rather than making an early transition to adult belts for children ages 4 to 8 likewise resulted in significantly fewer injuries.


* The term “graduate,” which in general use would be considered positive, is considered by many advocates to be misused in the CPS context.  Many child safety advocates view these moves between CR stages as reductions in protection, so a more appropriate word might be “transition.” We encourage others to adopt this term.


Editor’s Note: National statistics provide an overall view, but very likely do not reflect usage in a particular community.  For that reason, some states do their own observational studies periodically to assess needs.  It is important to undertake local observational studies, too.

© Safe Ride News September/October, 2010







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