Basic Facts: Children and Auto Accidents, Part 1

By far the most common type of injury accident involving children is one that also involves a motor vehicle collision. According to the National Center for Statistics and Analysis (NCSA), nearly 250,000 children are injured every year in car accidents.

This means that on any given day nearly 700 children are injured due to accidents on our roadways. Of the 250,000 kids injured each year, approximately 2,000 die from their injuries. Children make up about 5% of total fatalities due to car accidents. In fact, for children between the ages of 2 and 14, motor vehicle accidents are the leading cause of death. Car accidents are also the leading cause of acquired disability for children nationwide.

Approximately 20% of the children who die in a car accident each year are killed in accidents involving a driver who is legally intoxicated. Nearly half of these children were killed while riding as passengers in an automobile driven by an intoxicated driver.

How Can Parents Prevent Risk of Death or Injury of Their Children?

The failure of a child to wear a seat belt or use a safety seat is a contributing factor in more than half of the cases involving children who die in car accidents. Not only is an unrestrained child a potential distraction to the driver of the vehicle, but also the failure to wear a seat belt dramatically increases the chance that a child will suffer much more serious injury or death.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), at least 72% of the 3,500 observed vehicle safety restraints for children were being used incorrectly. When that happens, the risk that the child will suffer an injury or more severe injury rises even more. NHTSA estimates that a properly installed and used child safety seat lowers a child’s risk of death by 71% for infants and 54% for toddlers ages 1 to 4.

Washington State Regulations for Children in Vehicles

Every state, including Washington, requires the use of approved child safety seats for children under the age of 5. According to the NCSA there is only a 90% compliance rate with respect to using approved safety seats for children under this age. The Washington State Patrol (WSP) recommends that for children who are under one year of age or who weigh less than 20 pounds, the parents should follow the guidelines of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) by seating the child facing the rear of the vehicle. Children who are ages 1 to 4 and weight 20 to 40 pounds can sit facing the front of the vehicle.

Children between the ages of 4 and 8, or who are no taller than 4’9”, are required by Washington law to use booster seats (including lap and harness belts). The WSP recommends that the booster seat also meet AAP guidelines. The child restraint system must be used properly according to the instructions provided by both the seat AND vehicle manufacturer.

The WSP also recommends that an approved booster seat be used if: (1) the child’s knees do not otherwise bend comfortable at the edge of the seat, (2) the child does not sit with his/her hips all the way against the back of the auto seat, (3) the lap belt does not lie on top the child’s thighs, (4) the shoulder harness is not centered on the child’s shoulder and chest, or (5) the child cannot stay seated under the above conditions during the entire trip.

To continue to reading about children and car accidents, click here to order a free copy of "Little Kids, Big Accidents: What Every Parent Should Know About Children and Accidents," written by Seattle child injury attorney Chris Davis. If your child has been injured in a car accident, call Davis Law Group for a free consultation.