Motor vehicle crashes are a leading cause of death for children younger than 13.
Child deaths in motor vehicle crashes have declined since 1975, but crashes still cause about 1 of every 3 injury deaths among children younger than 13, National Center for Injury Prevention and Control. 2007. Web-based Injury Statistics Query and Reporting System (WISQARS). Atlanta, GA: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Available: http://www.cdc.gov/injury/wisqars/index.html. and are the leading cause of death for those 3-12 combined. Most crash deaths occur among children traveling as passenger vehicle occupants, and proper restraint use can reduce these fatalities. Placing children 12 and younger in rear seats instead of front seats reduces fatal injury risk by about a third. Braver, E.R.; Whitfield, R.A.; and Ferguson, S.A. 1998. Seating positions and children's risk of dying in motor vehicle crashes. Injury Prevention 4:181-87.
All 50 states and the District of Columbia have child safety seat laws on the books. However, even though more children now ride restrained because of these laws, many children, particularly those 4 and older, still ride unrestrained. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration 2009. Child restraint use in 2008 – demographic results. Traffic Safety Facts, Research Note. Report no. DOT HS-811-148. Washington, DC: US Department of Transportation. Seventeen states have laws requiring children to sit in the rear, but there is considerable variation among the laws based on the child's age, height, weight and if the vehicle has airbags.
The following facts are based on analysis of data from the U.S. Department of Transportation's Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS).
A total of 1,062 children died in motor vehicle crashes in 2009. This is a 1 percent increase from 2008 but a 71 percent decline from 1975. The percentage of child deaths who were male declined from 62 percent in 1975 to 54 percent in 2009.
Children younger than 13 represented 18 percent of the US population in 2009 and 3 percent of motor vehicle crash deaths.
Seventy-one percent of child motor vehicle crash deaths in 2009 were passenger vehicle occupants, 19 percent were pedestrians, and 5 percent were bicyclists. Child pedestrian and bicyclist deaths each declined by 88 percent since 1975. Passenger vehicle child occupant deaths in 2009 were 46 percent lower than in 1975.
Motor vehicle deaths among children younger than 13 by type, 1975-2009
In 2009, passenger vehicle occupants accounted for the majority of motor vehicle crash deaths for all age groups of children. Pedestrian fatalities accounted for 3 percent of crash deaths for children younger than 1 , 28 percent for ages 1 to 3, 20 percent for ages 4 to 8, and 14 percent for ages 9 to 12. Older children, ages 9 to 12, had the largest relative percentage of bicycle, all-terrain vehicle, and motorcycle fatalities, with 11 percent, 3 percent, and 2 percent, respectively.
The rate of motor vehicle crash deaths per million children younger than 13 has decreased 75 percent overall since 1975. The death rate for passenger vehicle child occupants decreased 54 percent, while the death rates for child pedestrians and bicyclists each declined by 90 percent.
It is recommended that children 12 and younger ride in vehicle rear seats. Eighteen percent of the passenger vehicle child occupant deaths in 2009 occurred in front seats, down from 46 percent in 1975. Seventy-two percent were in the rear, and the rest occurred in cargo or unknown areas.
In 1975 infants (under 1 year) had a much higher passenger vehicle occupant fatality rate per capita than children of other ages, but by 2009 the age gap had narrowed considerably. Since 1975 fatality rates dropped 74 percent for infants, 67 percent for children ages 1-3, 46 percent for children ages 4-8, and 38 percent for children ages 9-12.
Passenger vehicle child occupant deaths per million children by age, 1975-2009
The rate of motor vehicle crash deaths per million children in 2009 was 10 percent higher for males than for females.
Fifty-four percent of children younger than 13 who were killed in motor vehicle crashes in 2009 were male. The gender difference in fatalities was greater among child bicyclists (77 percent males, 23 percent females) than among child pedestrians (64 percent males, 36 percent females). The smallest gender difference in fatalities was among child occupants of passenger vehicles (49 percent males, 51 percent females).
The proportion of fatally injured children who are restrained has risen greatly during the past 24 years, from 15 percent in 1985 to 54 percent in 2009. Note, however, that these percentages are not estimates of restraint use among all children involved in potentially fatal crashes. For example, if restraint use among fatally injured 9-12 year olds (44 percent) is properly recorded, and if restraints are 45 percent effective in preventing fatalities, then restraint use among 9-12 year olds in such severe crashes is estimated to be 59 percent. In 2009, the percentage of fatally injured children who were in child safety seats was 71 percent for infants, 54 percent for ages 1-3, and 27 percent for ages 4-8.
The proportion of children killed in motor vehicle crashes in 2009 was larger on Saturday and Sunday, compared with other days of the week.
Twenty-six percent of the deaths of children in motor vehicle crashes in 2009 occurred during 3-6pm.
The proportion of children killed in motor vehicle crashes in 2009 was greatest during the months of April, May, June, and July.
©1996-2016, Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, Highway Loss Data Institute | www.iihs.org
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