Here are two good ideas parents like to put into practice: “Keeping children safe when they ride in the car by using the appropriate booster or safety car seats in the proper manner;” and “Car pooling in order to save gas, limit wear and tear on a vehicle, and rotate chauffeuring responsibilities of parents and caregivers.” Both of these sound like great ideas, don’t they? Is there any good reason these ideas should be mutually exclusive?
We don’t think so, but, according to a study performed by Michelle Macy, MD, of the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, and her colleagues, “Parents who generally have their children use booster seats in the car are not consistent in their use of booster seats when carpooling.” Also, 79% of the group of carpooling parents in the study said they would always ask another driver to make sure to use a booster seat for their child and only 55% said they would have their child use a booster seat if their friends riding in the vehicle did not have booster seats. The data in the study were compiled from a survey of 681 parents of children, ranging in ages from 4 to 8. The article published in the February 2012 issue of Pediatrics, concluded that “social norms and self-efficacy for booster seat use may be influential in carpooling situations,” which is a lofty way of saying that peer pressure is at work and it limits children’s safe-riding behavior even in carpooling situations.
This means to me that as child safety communicators, we need to do a better and more thorough job in publishing the message long and loud that using restraints appropriate for a child’s size every time they are in the car is very important for the safety of your child! The American Academy of Pediatrics believes health care providers have an important role in the process of communicating this message as parents view health care providers as a major resource for information on how to keep their children safe. The American Academy of Pediatrics revised their policy statement on booster seat use last year to reflect an emphasis on the size of a child, rather than a child’s age, by “recommending the use of a booster seat from the time children outgrow their forward-facing car seat until they reach 4 feet, 9 inches tall, around ages 8 to 12.”  Safekids.org says “Use booster seats from 40 to 80 or 100 pounds.
The University of Michigan study reported that despite the type of restraint used for their children, most parents (64%) participated in carpooling and that booster seats were not uniformly used when the parents were driving other children. The good news is that 76% of the parents used a safety seat for their child (although they had difficulty distinguishing between a safety car seat and a booster seat so for the purposes of this study, safety and booster seats were combined into “safety seats”). The remaining 24% of parents in the study said they used restraints (safety belts), but not booster seats, for their children. Finally, children were more likely to be using safety seats if the children were younger or lived in states where safety/booster seats were mandated by law. Our conclusion: Parents and caregivers need to know the differences between booster and safety seats and always make sure to use the size-appropriate seat in the proper way for children… every time they ride in your car! Every state has a child passenger safety law and parents and caregivers need to know the law in their state. To find the child passenger safety and safety belt use laws in your state, go to www.usa.safekids.org  and, please, drive and ride safely!