Child Restraints & Seat Belts

Child Passenger Safety Fact Sheet

Motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for children of all races ages 4-14. In 2001, motor vehicle crashes took the lives of 1,765 child passenger vehicle occupants from birth to age 15 and injured some 220,000 more.

Forty percent of the 1,765 children who died in crashes were unbelted. Tragically, nearly half of the children that were unbelted would be alive today if only they had been properly restrained.

Motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for Hispanics through the age of 24. They are the leading cause of death for African-American children through the age of 14 and the second leading cause of death, surpassed only by homicides, for ages 15-24. They are the leading cause of death for American Indians and Alaska Natives ages 1-44, and Asian Americans, age 1-34.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for 15-20-year-olds. And while young drivers ages 15-20 account for just 6.8 percent of licensed drivers (12.9 million), they represented 14 percent of all drivers involved in fatal crashes and 17 percent (1,862,000) of police reported crashes in 2001.

In 2001, 5,341 teens ages 16-20, were killed and thousands more were injured in traffic crashes. Fatality rates for teens are twice that of older drivers and the risk of crashes for teen is four time that of older drivers.

Strong Seat Belt Laws Save Kids

National and state data show that unbelted drivers have a dangerous impact on children. A crash study by the University of California, Irvine, published in the journal Pediatrics found: “Driver restraint use was the strongest predictor of child restraint use. A restrained driver was three times more likely to restrain a child.”

A national observational study by NHTSA found that when a driver is buckled, children are buckled 92 percent of the time. However, when a driver is unbuckled, children are restrained only 72 percent of the time.

Currently, only 18 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico have primary seat belt laws – laws that allow law enforcement to stop and ticket a driver for not wearing a seat belt just like any routine traffic violation. Thirty-one states have weak secondary belt laws. On average usage rates are 10-15 percentage points higher in states with primary seat belt laws. When Louisiana passed a primary belt law, child restraint use increased from 45 percent to 82 percent – with no change to the states’ child passenger safety law.

Every state has a child passenger safety law that includes primary enforcement provisions. The laws vary from state to state, with some laws covering only young children, some covering only the front seat and some exempting pick-up trucks and vans. Currently, only 34 jurisdictions require that all children up to the age of 16 be restrained in every seating position in every passenger vehicle.

Child Safety Seats and Seat Belts Make the Difference

Child safety seats, when properly installed, reduce the risk of death by 71 percent for infants and 54 percent for toddlers. From 1975 through 2001, an estimated 5,085 lives were saved by the use of child safety seats or adult belts. In 2001, among children under five years old, an estimated 269 lives were saved by child restraint use.

Sadly, in 2001 there were 497 children age five and under who died as occupants in motor vehicle crashes and of those 497, NHTSA estimates that 242 were totally unrestrained.

The U.S. Department of Transportation announced that, due to the Mobilizations and other enforcement efforts, more drivers are buckling up their children than ever before. Since the effort began, child restraint use for infants under age one has gone from 85 percent to 97 percent, and for children ages one to four, it has climbed from 60 percent to 91 percent. While restraint use for older children has increased by four percentage points, 31 percent of the children ages 5-15 ride completely unrestrained.

Safety Restraints AKA Seat Belts


To understand the value of safety belts and child safety seat use, it’s important to understand some of the dynamics of a traffic crash. Every motor vehicle crash is actually comprised of three collisions.

The first collision is known as the car’s collision, which causes the car to buckle and bend as it hits something and comes to an abrupt stop. This occurs in approximately one-tenth of a second. The crushing of the front end absorbs some of the force of the crash and cushions the rest of the car. As a result, the passenger compartment comes to a more gradual stop than the front of the car.

The second collision occurs as the car’s occupants hit some part of the vehicle. At the moment of impact, unbelted occupants are still traveling at the vehicle’s original speed. Just after the vehicle comes to a complete stop, these unbelted occupants will slam into the steering wheel, the windshield, or some other part of the vehicle’s interior. This is the human collision.

Another form of human collision is the person-to-person impact. Many serious injuries are caused by unbelted occupants colliding with each other. In a crash, occupants tend to move toward the point of impact, not away from it. People in the front seat are often struck by unbelted rear-seat passengers who have become high-speed projectiles.

Even after the occupant’s body comes to a complete stop, the internal organs are still moving forward. Suddenly, these organs hit other organs or the skeletal system. This third collision is the internal collision and often causes serious or fatal injuries.


During a crash, properly fastened safety belts distribute the forces of rapid deceleration over larger and stronger parts of the person’s body, such as the chest, hips and shoulders. The safety belt stretches slightly to slow your body down and to increase its stopping distance.

The difference between the belted person’s stopping distance and the unbelted person’s stopping distance is significant. It’s often the difference between life and death.


316.614 Safety Belt Usage – View the Statute online