by Kathleen Clary-Cooke, CPST
Coordinator, Safe Kids Benton-Franklin

Last week, the article, "More on Finley Crash: Dead Woman Was Mother of Child in Car" included a statement suggesting children ages 2 to 6 are equally safe in seatbelts as car seats and referred to a 2005 Ted Talk by an economist to support that position. The statement was made in regards to a local crash in which a 3-year-old boy survived despite only being buckled into a seat belt instead of a car seat. When the article was shared to Facebook, several followers quickly expressed their disagreement with those statements and reached out to Safe Kids Benton-Franklin in hopes of correcting this misinformation. When we spoke with Townsquare Media Tri-Cities, they graciously offered us the opportunity to write our own article.

Before we address the study, what Safe Kids Benton-Franklin wants parents and caregivers to know is:

  • Injury is the leading cause of death of children under the age of 19
  • Motor Vehicle crashes are the leading cause of injuries and injury deaths
  • The rate of children ages 0-12 who have died in motor vehicle crashes has dropped 78% since 1975
  • While not all crashes are survivable, a child’s risk of dying in a crash is reduced by 71% when they are properly restrained in a motor vehicle.
  • Properly restrained means riding in a car seat, booster seat, or seat belt that fits them, that is facing the correct direction, and is installed and used correctly.

The “study” in question was done in 2005 by self-proclaimed “Rogue Economist” named Steven Levitt who published the book “Freakonomics” with writer Stephen Dubner. Before and since that time, numerous researchers have disproven Levitt’s theory. In fact, later studies using the same data showed significant improvements in safety in motor vehicle crashes. Even Levitt in his original paper actually acknowledged that child restraints reduced injury. He has repeatedly stated that his own children under the age of six travelled in car seats and booster seats.

Alisa Baer, MD, is a pediatrician and a certified Child Passenger Safety Instructor (CPST-I), and is better known as The Car Seat Lady. She publishes a blog at CarSeatLady.com and disagrees with Levitt’s claims. Dr. Baer’s response can be found in her post “FREAKONOMICS Fallacy: An Economist or a Pediatrician – Who Would You Trust To Keep Your Child Safe?”

Looking at the most basic data available, the number of children under the age of 9 (those most likely to be using a car seat or booster) killed while riding as an occupant in a vehicle has dropped more than 55% from 1,036 in 1975 to 463 in 2013. If you consider the increase in the US population and the significant increase in the number of miles that vehicles are driven in the US, the drop is even more significant. Much of that decrease is attributed to improved child passenger safety through the use of car seats and booster seats.

The number one killer of children in the US is preventable injury and motor vehicle crashes are still the leading cause of injury death for those under the age of 18.  Although we’ve made huge strides in making cars safer for kids, thanks in large part to the use of car seats and booster seats, our work in this area continues. Safe Kids Benton-Franklin works to educate parents, caregivers, and the public on the importance of keeping kids properly restrained. We are fortunate to have several certified Child Passenger Safety Technicians in Benton and Franklin counties. Safe Kids holds a free monthly inspection station at the Washington State Patrol in Kennewick as well as car seat clinics throughout the year so parents can ensure that they know how to install their child’s car seat or booster and that the child is harnessed correctly. Our certified Technicians are also available at other times to work with families by appointment.

For car seat questions or information on getting a car seat checked, please call Safe Kids Benton-Franklin at 509-460-4214 or email kathleencc@bfhd.wa.gov.

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