Children in Carpools Often Go Without Booster Seats

Even Parents Who Use Booster Seats for Their Child Sometimes Neglect to Do So When Carpooling

Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD on January 27, 2012

Jan. 30, 2012 -- Parents often skip using booster seats when carpooling with preschoolers or young school-age children, increasing the risk of serious injury in a crash, a new study shows.

“I think it’s a complex issue of convenience, expectations, and peer pressure,” says researcher Michelle Macy, MD, a pediatrician at the University of Michigan. Macy and her co-authors of the study say theirs is the first study to explore issues related to carpooling and booster seat use among parents of 4- to 8-year-olds.

Macy and her co-authors conducted a national, web-based survey of U.S. parents in January 2010. They asked parents 12 questions about booster seats and carpooling. The researchers based their findings on responses from almost 700 parents of children in the 4- to 8-year-old age group.

Overall, about three-quarters of parents said their child uses a car safety seat.

More Carpoolers Need to Put Kids in Booster Seats

In Macy’s study, about two-thirds of the parents said they carpool. Those parents were significantly more likely to report that their child uses a safety seat in accordance with their state law.

And nearly two-thirds of parents of child safety seat users reported always using booster seats for the children of others, compared to only about a quarter of parents whose children use a seat belt.

But only half of parents who report using a safety seat always have their child use one when riding in their car if their friends don’t have boosters -- and 1 in 5 parents don’t always ask other drivers to use a booster seat for their child.

If possible, Macy suggests, stow a spare booster seat in the trunk of your car. Or for about $40, you could buy an inflatable booster seat that, when deflated, can fit into a backpack.

Laws Make a Difference

Guidelines from the American Academy of Pediatrics recommend that children use a booster seat from the time they outgrow their forward-facing car seat until they’re 4 feet, 9 inches tall and are between 8 and 12 years old. With shorter children, Macy says, the shoulder belt might not hit the middle of the collarbone, spurring them to put it under their arm or behind their back.

But the two states with the highest cutoff for child restraints, Wyoming and Tennessee, require their use only in children 8 and younger, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. Twenty-nine states and the District of Columbia require child restraints in children 7 and under. Florida has the lowest cutoff of all, with child restraints required only for children 3 and under.

Macy’s study shows that children living in states that required them to be in a safety seat were more likely to use one.

"You need some enforcement, but I think that is an area where laws have a lot of influence,” says Anne McCartt, PhD, senior vice president for research at the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. "Most parents want to do the safest thing.”

Show Sources


Michelle Macy, MD, pediatrician, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor.

Anne McCartt, PhD, senior vice president for research, Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

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