AAA survey reveals 'boost' in car seat compliance

(March 21, 2012) WASHINGTON — On the one year anniversary of the American Academy of Pediatrics' (AAP) updated car seat recommendations, a AAA survey reveals that outreach efforts are working and parents are getting the message. Over 90 percent of parents with a child under 13 reported being aware of the new guidelines, many having heard of the change from their child's pediatrician.

By advising parents to keep toddlers rear-facing until age two, or until reaching the maximum height and weight for the seat, and recommending that older children between 8 and 12 remain in a belt-positioning booster seat until 4 feet 9 inches tall, the AAP reinforced what safety groups had long advocated.

According to AAA's survey, parents heeded the group's advice, with one in three (35 percent) changing the way their children under 13 ride in the car.

"It's encouraging to find that many parents are aware of the recommendations and are taking these safety interventions seriously," said Jill Ingrassia, managing director, AAA Government Relations and Traffic Safety Advocacy.  "Parents are getting the message that moving a child to the next step prematurely is actually a downgrade in safety.  Children should remain in their car or booster seat until they outgrow it."

According to AAA's survey, when parents with a child under two were asked why they had not made a change based on the new recommendations, 82 percent reported no change was needed as they were already meeting or exceeding the new guidelines.

Other reasons commonly cited included parents reporting their child was uncomfortable or unwilling to sit rear-facing, parents' reluctance to return a child to a rear-facing position after "graduating" to a forward-facing seat and the belief that the new recommendations were unnecessary.

With car seat manufacturers offering a wide array of car seats designed to accommodate larger toddlers in a rear-facing position, AAA reminds parents that the safety benefits of keeping children rear-facing far outweigh the convenience of a forward-facing seat.  Studies show that children are five times less likely to be injured in a crash when they are properly restrained in a rear-facing car seat.

Surveyed parents of older children offered similar answers. Of those who did not adopt changes based on the new recommendations, 77 percent reported their child was already meeting or exceeding guidelines. Other reasons cited for not making a change included the belief that the recommendations were too strict, their unwillingness to return their child to a booster seat after "graduating" to seat belt and concern over whether the child's friends also used a booster seat.

"Seat belts are designed for adults and do not typically fit children until they have reached 4 feet 9 inches tall," warned Ingrassia. "Graduating a child from a booster seat too soon may result in injury, or even death, in the event of a crash."  

AAA developed a series of informational videos in which experts walk parents step-by-step through the new car seat and booster seat guidelines as well as proper seat belt use. With three out of four child safety seats not properly installed, consulting an expert can be critical to ensure that children are secured in the safest manner possible. Certified Child Passenger Safety Technicians are available to help parents with their car seat installation through local AAA offices, by visiting the AAA web site, or calling 866-SEATCHECK (866-732-8243).