Parents Slow to Adapt to Booster Seat Law

Armen Hareyan's picture

Booster Seat Safety

Booster seats have been proven to protect children from serious injury, yet new research shows that in some communities fewer than 21 percent of children 4-8 years old are properly secured in booster seats when they ride in cars. More children were observed to be completely unrestrained (34 percent) or inadequately protected by an adult seat belt (45 percent).

Children in this age group are vulnerable because they do not fit well in adult seat belts. Many families in these communities are Spanish-speaking, and may not have received information about how to keep children safe in the car.

"These findings are disturbing, because motor vehicle crashes are the single largest killer of children 4-8 years old, and we know that booster seats reduce a child's risk of injury by 59 percent compared to using only a seat belt,"says Dr. Beth Ebel, associate director of the Harborview Injury Prevention and Research Center and a University of Washington assistant professor of pediatrics. "Parents love their children. But many parents aren't protecting their kids from the greatest danger they face"

The research on booster seat use was conducted in lower income neighborhoods in King County, the Yakima Valley, and Portland, Ore. between April and August, 2005. Three-quarters of drivers surveyed were Latino parents. The rate of proper booster seat protection was highest for 5-year-olds (28 percent) and lowest for 8-year-olds (5.7 percent), indicating that many parents allow their children to "graduate"to adult seat belts too soon.

The observations indicate that correct booster seat use was lowest for Latino families (14 percent) and highest for other families (40 percent). Correct booster seat use was 27 percent in King County, 11 percent in the Yakima valley, and 21 percent in Portland. In King County, 26 percent of 4-8 year old children were entirely unprotected. In the Yakima Valley, the rate was 46 percent, and in Portland, 34 percent.


"Booster seats protect children, and using them is the law,"Ebel explains. "Children may have opinions, but parents shouldn't negotiate about something so important. We parents have to decide which battles to fight -- your child's life may depend on this one."

A new Latino outreach program in King County and in the Yakima valley focuses on educating families about child-passenger safety, including booster seats, through community education, media campaigns, printed materials and coupons. The program involves schools, churches, community centers and Latino organizations. The campaign is needed, Ebel says, because information and access to booster seats has been lacking in the Latino communities.

There's no doubt about the importance of booster seats in the mind of Mrs. Elisa Campos of Wapato, Wash. She and her family were riding their van last spring when another driver ran a stop sign, and the two vehicles collided. Both parents and two older children were wearing seat belts, and the youngest child, a 6-year-old girl, was protected in a booster seat. The van was totaled, but no one inside suffered more than a bruise.

"It was a blessing,"Campos recalls. "I taught my kids that seat belts and booster seats save lives. They always ride in them - no matter how fidgety they are."

Washington's Child Restraint Law, passed in 2002, was updated earlier this year to require proper child restraint and booster seat use until a child is 8 years old, unless he or she is 4'9"tall. The new law becomes effective on June 1, 2007. Drivers receive a $101 ticket for each improperly buckled child passenger. Physicians and child-safety experts advise parents to follow the new guidelines now to give their children the best possible protection in case of a crash.

Booster seats are inexpensive and easy to install. For more information on booster seats, including access to booster seat educational materials, and a crash video showing the risk to children who are not using a booster seat, click on or call 1-800-BUCKL-UP (1-800-282-5587).