Despite these advances, the researchers found that 62 percent of 4- to 8-year-olds are restrained in adult seat belts, putting them at unnecessary risk of injury in a crash.
Partners For Child Passenger Safety (PCPS), a research partnership of The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia and State Farm, published its results in this month's issue of Pediatrics. The current study represents an in-depth analysis of more than 10,000 children under age 9 who were in crashes reported to State Farm from 1999 to 2002.
For children under age nine, overall child restraint use rose from 49 percent in 1999 to 63 percent at the end of 2002. Among 3-year-olds, optimal child restraint use rocketed from 50 percent in 1999 to 93 percent in 2002. Most of these 3-year-olds moved from seat belts and shield booster seats to child safety seats with a harness, according to Flaura K. Winston, M.D., Ph.D., scientific director of TraumaLink at Children's Hospital and principal investigator for PCPS. She added that 2003 data indicate these favorable trends are continuing.
The shifts in child restraint use, said Dr. Winston, reflect the results of public health education campaigns and new legislation in more than two dozen states as well as the greater availability of child restraints that accommodate larger children. Although many children after age 4 are in adult seat belts, PCPS researchers note that the best protection for children aged 4 to 8 are either child safety seats with a harness or belt-positioning booster seats--depending on the child's size.