A new study from the American Academy of Pediatrics shows booster seat laws save lives. The research looked at fatalities and injury rates in states before and after they passed legislation that mandated their use in older children.
Motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death in kids nationwide. Each year about 1,800 children age 14 and under are killed. Another 280,000 are injured. Safety experts blame, in part, a lack of safety restraints in some, and improper use of them in others.
"We have an epidemic of car seat related injuries in the U.S. because parents aren't using them properly or even at all," said Ann Weinstein with Fletcher Allen's Child Passenger Safety Program.
Most states, if not all, mandate restraints in kids, but officials say the laws are inconsistent when it comes to booster seats. Some states mandate their use up to age 4, others 5, 6, or 7 -- and some, including Vermont, say kids must be in booster seats until age 8.
"We'd like you to use the high back booster before you use the low back booster because every step forward with car seats is a step down in safety," Weinstein said.
A new study presented at an American Academy of Pediatrics conference this week concluded that a nationwide standard would save lives. "They were able to see that in the states where booster seat laws extended through the age groups most vulnerable, that the incidence of serious injury and fatalities was clearly improved," said Dr. Eliot Nelson, who sits on the Academy's Council on Injury, Violence and Poison Prevention.
Researchers compared fatalities and serious injuries before and after booster seat laws were passed. Out of 9,848 reviewed over a 10 year period -- doctors saw a 20-percent reduction in kids 4 to 6 years-old, and an even higher reduction in kids 7 to 8 years old -- a 33 percent drop when booster seats were required by law.
Experts say booster seats prop kids up so their seat belts cross the hard, boney pelvis -- not their abdomen and other internal organs. It keeps them from slouching.
"When they do that, the lap belt rides up to the level of the belly button. There you are vulnerable to the kinds of injuries that are most serious in this age which involves serious compression in the typical car crash -- a frontal car crash -- bad compression of the abdominal contents," Dr. Nelson said.
It's called Seat Belt Syndrome. Nelson said serious spinal cord injuries occur as well. The Academy of Pediatrics is not advocating for a nationwide booster seat law at this time but suggests people follow the Academy's recommendations when it comes to keeping their kids safe while in cars.