Use Booster Seats Till Kids Are 8

Seat Belts Are Little Help to Kids in Car Crashes

From the WebMD Archives

June 3, 2003 -- If your kids are 8 or younger, they need car booster seats. Seat belts don't give them enough protection in a car crash, an important new study shows.

You already know that kids age 4 years and younger must be in a car booster seat when going for a drive. Up to age 6, it's the law in every state with booster-seat laws. But that's not enough.

Dennis R. Durbin, MD, of Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, and colleagues previously proved that booster seats protect kids up to age 4. Now they extend these findings to kids age 4-7 and, by extension, to 8-year-olds, too. The findings appear in the June 4 issue of The Journal of the American Medical Association.

"This study confirms that belt-positioning booster seats [lower] risk of injury compared with seat belts in children aged 4 to 7 years," Durbin and colleagues write. "Our results provide the first real-world evidence that this optimal positioning of the belt is associated with significantly fewer injuries classically associated with seat-belt use in young children."

The researchers looked at car-wreck records provided by State Farm Insurance Co. They looked at 367,020 children age 4-7 riding in 246,245 vehicles that had crashes from December 1998 through May 2001. They didn't look at 8-year-olds because so few were in booster seats at that time.

Five kids were killed in these crashes. All were wearing seat belts. None were using booster seats.

Overall, 1.8% of the kids were injured: 1.95% of kids wearing seat belts and 0.77% of kids in booster seats. Booster seats cut injuries by about 60%, even after controlling for where in the car the kids were sitting (kids in seat belts were more likely to be in the less-safe front seat).

Moreover, injuries seemed to be less severe when kids were in booster seats. None of the kids in booster seats had injuries to the belly, spine, or legs. Kids in seat belts had injuries to every body part.

The issue is height. Seat belts simply aren't made for anyone shorter than 57 inches in height. More than 95% of 8-year-olds are shorter than that.

Bottom line: Put the kids in booster seats until they're tall enough for seat belts. They may whine. But they'll be a lot safer.

SOURCE: Journal of the American Medical Association, June 4, 2003.

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