updated 2/11/2004 12:32:07 PM ET 2004-02-11T17:32:07

Adults regularly put millions of young children at risk by letting them ride in the front seats of vehicles or not using car seats properly, according to two new safety studies.

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A study released Wednesday by the National Safety Council found that 88 percent of those who regularly drive children had heard safety warnings about front seats, where air bags can kill or injure children. Still, 6 percent of all children age 0-12 and 7 percent of newborns were seated up front. Blacks and Hispanics were more likely to place children in the front seat, the study said.

A separate survey by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration found that child safety seat use increased in the past decade, from 50 percent to 71.5 percent. But 73 percent of the 5,527 child passengers it surveyed were in seats that were improperly used.

The most common mistakes were placing the child in harness straps that were too loose or failing to properly attach the child seat to the vehicle seat, NHTSA said.

The study also found that four out of five children who should be riding in booster seats are not. According to NHTSA, any infant up to 20 pounds should be in a rear-facing child seat and any toddler between 20 and 40 pounds should be in a child seat with a harness. A child heavier than that but not yet 4 feet 9 inches tall should be in a booster seat.

The NHTSA study collected data on children riding in 4,126 vehicles in Arizona, Florida, Mississippi, Missouri, Pennsylvania and Washington in fall 2002.

The National Safety Council survey questioned 800 adults who transport children and had a margin of error of 3.6 percentage points.

To reach more low-income parents, the National Safety Council plans to start distributing information about child passenger safety through the federal Women, Infants and Children program, which serves about 47 percent of all babies born in the United States.

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