Seat laws boost child car safety

US research shows that mandatory booster seat laws for children aged 4 to 7 years play a significant role in reducing fatalities in this age group after car accidents.

The researchers say that the most noticeable effect was in the 6 to 7-year age group and suggest that current legislation introduced in 47 US states between 2001 and 2009, which largely applies to children aged 4 to 5 years, should be extended to older children to help reduce injuries and fatalities.

Although booster seats are known to prevent injuries and death in children between the age of 4 and 7 years, a survey carried out in the US in 2008 showed that only 48% of 4 to 5 year olds and 35% of 6 to 7 year olds used them on a regular basis.

To assess how effective booster seat legislation is at reducing motor accident fatalities, Rebekah Mannix (Children's Hospital Boston, Massachusetts, USA) and colleagues carried out a survey of fatalities before and after laws were introduced in each state. As many states did not include 6 to 7-year-old children, the data on this age group were analyzed separately from the 4 to 5-year age group.

As reported in Pediatrics, the team found that introduction of a booster seat law reduced the pooled risk for death after motor vehicle accidents in 4 to 5 year olds by a significant 11%. In states that included 6-year-olds (4 to 6-year-olds), the risk was reduced by a significant 23%, and in those including 7-year-olds (4 to 7-year-olds) by a significant 25%.

By contrast, in states that did not bring in booster seat laws in this period, the rate of motor accident fatalities did not change in children aged 4 to 7 years, notes the team.

All US children under the age of 4 years have been required by law to use appropriate car seats since 1985, with a substantial reduction in fatalities and deaths as a result. This study, as well as other research, shows that similar laws regarding booster seats can provide the same protection for children in the 4 to 7-year age group.

"Legislation mandating the use of booster seats should include children at least until the age of 7 and preferably until they reach the recommended height of 4 feet 9 inches for safe seat belt use without a booster seat," conclude Mannix and co-workers.

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