updated 5/2/2005 11:58:06 AM ET 2005-05-02T15:58:06

A new study emphasizes what every parent must know: children are safer in car crashes when they sit in the back seat and are less likely to be injured when safety seats and seat belts are used.

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“The single most important lifesaving decision parents can make for their child is to use the rear seat and age- and size-appropriate restraints during every car ride, every time,” said Dr. Flaura Winston, a pediatrician and chief investigator of the study, which is being released Monday.

The study was sponsored by The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, the American Academy of Pediatrics and the world’s largest insurer, State Farm Insurance Co. The findings are based on information from more than 370,000 State Farm policyholders involved in car crashes.

Researchers say the combination of sitting in the back seat and using safety restraints would have prevented more than 1,000 of the 3,665 serious injuries to children under 16 in the crashes, although the study did not say when those crashes occurred. The study also notes that almost a third of the nearly 1,800 children who died in car crashes in 2003 were riding in the front seat and more than half weren’t restrained.

'Never negotiate on safety'
The study found children were 40 percent safer in the back seat than the front in car crashes, and the risk of injury dropped to less than 2 percent when safety seats and seat belts were used.

Winston said too many parents give in to children who have grown out of safety seats and want to ride up front, where they can be injured by dashboards, windshields or air bags.

“You can negotiate on bedtimes or eating peas for dinner, but you never negotiate on safety,” Winston said.

The report also concluded that minivans and large cars and sport-utility vehicles were the safest for children, while smaller vehicles had higher injury rates.

Safety improvements and increased safety seat and seat belt use have reduced child fatality rates to 1.5 per 100 million miles driven in 2003 from 2.3 per 100 million miles in 1988, Winston said.

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