TUESDAY, Aug. 7, 2012 (HealthDay News) -- Many American children are not meeting recommended car passenger safety guidelines for their age group, a new study finds.
Too many of these youngsters are also riding in the front seat before they're ready, putting them at greater risk on the road, according to research published in the September issue of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.
"The most important finding from this study is that, while age and racial disparities exist, overall few children are using the restraints recommended for their age group, and many children over 5 [but under the safe age of 13] are sitting in the front seat," study co-author Dr. Michelle Macy, with the Child Health Evaluation and Research Unit at the C.S. Mott Children's Hospital at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, said in a journal news release.
The American Academy of Pediatrics issued new guidelines on child passenger safety in 2011.
The AAP advised that children be placed in rear-facing car seats until they are at least 2 years old. Next, children should use forward-facing car seats with a five-point harness until they reach the maximum height and weight requirement recommended by the seat's manufacturer.
Children should continue to use a booster seat until they are about 57 inches tall (the average height of an 11-year-old child) and an adult seat belt fits them properly. Children under 13 years old should ride in the back seat, the AAP said.
For the new study, the investigators examined information on nearly 21,500 children from the U.S National Highway Traffic Safety Administration National Survey on the Use of Booster Seats.
Data collectors observed drivers with child passengers as they drove into gas stations, fast-food restaurants, recreation centers and child care facilities. They recorded the type of restraints being used by the children, where the children sat and if the children were boys or girls. They also noted the type of restraints used by the adults and the type of car they were driving.
The researchers also interviewed the drivers to learn their age as well as the ages of all the children riding in the car. The drivers also gave the race and ethnicity of the child passengers.
As children got older, they were less likely to be restrained in cars and follow recommended car safety guidelines.
"We found that few children remain rear-facing after age 1, fewer than 2 percent use a booster seat after age 7, many over age 6 sit in the front seat," Macy said.
Hispanic and black children were even less likely to use age-appropriate restraints than white children.
"Our findings demonstrate that not all children have been reached equally by community-based public education campaigns and the passage of child safety seat laws in 48 states," Macy said. "Further development and dissemination of culturally specific programs that have demonstrated success in promoting restraint use among minority children are necessary. Further, the findings may also help in developing strategies to lower the racial and ethnic disparities seen in children experiencing crash-related injuries."
The U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has more about children and car safety.