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Child injuries drop after N.Y. booster seat law

Traffic injuries among children ages 4 to 6 declined in New York State in the wake of a law requiring them to be strapped into car booster seats, researchers reported Monday.
/ Source: Reuters

Traffic injuries among children ages 4 to 6 declined in New York State in the wake of a law requiring them to be strapped into car booster seats, researchers reported Monday.

Most U.S. states now require that children who have outgrown traditional car seats use a car booster seat, which raises a child high enough so that the car seatbelts can be positioned properly — with the shoulder strap across the shoulder and not the neck, and the lap belt across the hips.

Studies have shown that booster seats protect children in a crash. But the new research, reported in the journal Pediatrics, is the first to compare injury rates before and after a state law mandating booster seats.

Starting in March 2005, New York State required that children between the ages of 4 and 6 ride in a car booster seat. For the current study, researchers with the state health department compared traffic injury rates among children in that age group during the two years before the law was implemented with rates across the three years after the law took hold.

They found that traffic injury rates among 4- to 6-year-olds dipped 18 percent between the two time periods — from an average of 29 per 10,000 children to 25 per 10,000.

The figures also suggest that the law deserves the credit, according to Dr. Kainan Sun and colleagues at the New York State Department of Health.

Before the law went into effect, 29 percent of 4- to 6-year-olds involved in car accidents were strapped into a booster seat at the time of the crash, the researchers found; that figure rose to 50 percent after the law took hold.

In addition, no similar reduction in traffic injuries among children younger than 4, who were not affected by the new booster-seat law, was seen during the study period.

The findings, according to Sun's team, underscore the effectiveness of booster seats in reducing children's risk of suffering injuries in an accident.

Late last year, New York revised its booster-seat law to include 7-year-olds as well. Experts generally recommend that children ride in a booster seat until they are about 4 feet, 9 inches tall and can sit comfortably with their knees bent over the front of the seat at a 90-degree angle.

It is also vital that booster seats be installed and used properly. Sun's team notes that in a 2004 study by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), researchers found that about half of families had at least one "critical misuse" of their car booster seats, such as incorrectly positioning or latching seatbelts.

Parents who need advice on using booster seats can go to online sources like the NHTSA's website and Safe Kids USA.

The NHTSA site also allows parents to search for local inspection stations where they can get help in installing and using car safety seats.