February 8, 2018
As leading safety organizations working together to pass highway and auto safety laws that prevent unnecessary crashes, deaths and injuries, and contain costs, we support House Bill (HB) 4951 to strengthen Michigan’s child occupant protection statute. This measure requires that children remain rear facing in a child safety seat until age two or older, in a forward facing child safety seats until age four, and then in a booster seat until age eight and 57 inches in height. Children should remain in their current safety seat as long as possible, until they have aged out and outgrown the seat specifications. When children are properly restrained in a child safety seat that is appropriate for their age and size, their chance of being killed or seriously injured in a car crash is greatly reduced.
Motor vehicle crashes are a leading cause of death for children in the United States (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)). An average of three children under age 14 were killed and nearly 500 were injured every day in traffic crashes in 2015 – amounting to a total of 1,132 fatalities and 178,000 others injured. Improperly restrained children traveling in vehicles present a serious public health problem, yet, it can be addressed with a proven solution. Across all age groups, injury risk is lowest (less than two percent) when children are placed in an age-appropriate restraint in the rear seat. Studies show child safety seats reduce the likelihood of infants (under one year old) being killed in a vehicle crash by 71 percent and toddlers (one to four years old) by 54 percent.[i] More than 260 lives were saved in 2015 by restraining children four and younger in passenger vehicles.
Michigan’s current child passenger safety law requires children under age seven and less than 57 inches in height use a child safety seat. Since that law was enacted, new research has been conducted and best practices in child passenger protection have been updated, calling for requirements that take into account and make further specifications related to stages of physical development from infancy through early childhood.
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), children younger than two years old are at an elevated risk of head and spine injuries in motor vehicle crashes because their heads are relatively large and their necks smaller with weak musculature. By supporting the entire torso, neck, head and pelvis, a rear facing car seat distributes crash forces over the entire body rather than focusing them only at belt contact points. When a child is placed in a rear facing car seat through age two or older, they are provided with optimal support for their head and neck in the event of a crash.
A review of child passenger best practices by the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute (UMTRI) found that the direction in which seats are facing plays a significant role in car seat effectiveness.[ii] A University of Virginia study, Car safety seats for children: rear facing for best protection, confirmed UMTRI’s review. It noted that children (age 0-23 months) in forward facing car seats were significantly more likely to be seriously injured than children restrained in rear facing car seats in all crash types. In fact, children are 75 percent less likely to suffer severe or fatal injuries in a crash if they are facing the rear. The study found the benefit was particularly great in side crashes.[iii]
After a child reaches age two and the maximum height and weight limit for their rear facing safety seat, they may be turned forward facing in a harness-equipped child restraint. Use of the top tether and LATCH system, when available, is preferred. Children should remain in a forward facing harness and tether seat until they meet the height and weight limit of the restraint. Children who have outgrown the forward facing restraint may be placed in a booster seat, where they should remain until age eight and 57 inches in height. All safety seats should be certified by the manufacturer to meet U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) safety standards.
The AAP determined that states which enacted booster seat laws covering children through age eight witnessed a 33 percent drop in fatalities and incapacitating injuries resulting from crashes for children ages seven through eight. The AAP also concluded that children ages seven through eight restrained by a seat belt instead of a booster seat faced an increased risk of death or incapacitating injury of 70 percent. Children in side-impact crashes benefitted the most from booster seats, showing a reduction in injury risk of 68 percent for nearside crashes and 82 percent for far-side crashes.[iv] Children should remain in a booster seat until they are able to be properly restrained by a seat belt which occurs after attaining 57 inches in height. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), the AAP and the CDC have all made recommendations for these child passenger safety enhancements.
Traffic fatalities in Michigan increased eighteen percent over the two year period 2014 to 2016 (NHTSA). More can and should be done to improve traffic safety on Michigan roads, especially for our most vulnerable child passengers. We urge you to advance HB 4951, a bipartisan measure to improve child passenger safety by upgrading its child restraint law to keep pace with research and best practices.
Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety
Founder & President
[i] Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security, Child Restraint Safety, available at: http://bit.ly/1Wb02Ak.
[ii] Weber K. Crash protection for child passengers. A review of best practice. University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute (UMTRI) 2000311-27.27).
[iii] B Henary, CP Sherwood; Car safety seats for children: rear facing for best protection; Inj Prev. 2007 Dec; 13(6): 398-402.
[iv] Aborgast KB, Jermakian JS, Kallan MJ, Durbin DR, Effectiveness of Belt Positioning Booster Seats: An Updated Assessment, Pediatrics, Vol. 124, Num. 5 (November 2009).