30 Years Later: New Survey Finds Parents Support Child Safety Seat Laws, But AAA Says Many Laws Are Inadequate

WASHINGTON, D.C., January 17, 2008

Erin SteppThirty years after the enactment of the nation’s first child safety seat law, a new survey shows parents strongly support child safety seats and child seat laws.

Yet nearly 100 children under age 5 die every year in crashes they could have survived if they had been using child safety seats, said AAA in calling for states to close gaps in their child passenger safety laws.

According to a survey released by AAA to coincide with the 30th anniversary of Tennessee’s first-in-the-nation child safety seat law, more than half of all parents (54 percent) look to their state law for guidance on how to restrain their children. While a strong majority (93 percent) of parents surveyed said they are aware of their state’s child restraint laws and most (86 percent) feel that these laws should be consistent across the country, less than half (39 percent) can accurately identify the age at which their state allows a child to ride in an automobile with only a lap and shoulder belt.

“These results send a clear and powerful message to state legislators across the country,” said Robert L. Darbelnet, president and CEO of AAA. “Parents look to the law to provide guidance about when and how their children should be restrained but, in many cases, the laws are letting them down. State laws vary greatly throughout the U.S. and, although every state has a provision for children under age four, just 18 states and the District of Columbia require children up to the age of 8 or older to be restrained in a booster seat.

“Stronger laws and better education will save additional young lives. State legislators can make this happen,” continued Darbelnet.

AAA released the survey data in conjunction with the 30th anniversary of the first state child passenger safety seat law, which took effect in Tennessee in January 1978. Three decades later, marked progress in child passenger restraint legislation, improvements in car seat technology and the dedicated work of safety advocates are saving the lives of thousands of children each year in the U.S., including an estimated 392 children younger than 5 in 2006. AAA today joined national and local child safety advocates in commemorating 30 years of child passenger safety successes.

“As child seat technology and legislation have evolved over the last three decades, so, too, have parental attitudes toward child passenger safety,” said Darbelnet. “Today, many parents make it a priority to properly restrain their children when driving because of the proven life-saving benefits of car seats.” Yet despite this positive shift in attitudes, more than one-third (35 percent) of children under five who were killed in fatal crashes in 2006 were unrestrained. In total, 145 of the 452 children under age 5 who died in crashes were unrestrained.

Thirty years ago, pioneering legislation in Tennessee sparked a movement across our country to protect our most vulnerable passenger population—young children. In the decade after Tennessee enacted its law, all 50 states passed some form of child passenger safety law.

“Most state laws today still fall short of what we know are the best practices, especially for 4-to-8-year-old children who should be riding in booster seats,” said Deborah A.P. Hersman, Member, National Transportation Safety Board.

When examining how parents learn about their state laws, the survey found that only 31 percent of parents said they learned about them from physicians, while 40 percent cited the government as their source of information. Most parents (80 percent) who responded felt that pediatricians and other physicians should educate parents about child restraint laws and the government (73 percent) should also take a more active role in educating parents.

“AAA honors the efforts of all of those who worked tirelessly to improve child passenger safety standards and increase the use of child safety seats over the last three decades. The traffic safety community, however, must continue to push for stronger, consistent legislation in all states and remain committed to educating the public on the importance of child passenger safety,” concluded Darbelnet.

AAA clubs continue to work to enact comprehensive child passenger safety laws protecting children up to the age of 8 in every state. For more information on state child passenger restraint laws, visit www.aaa.com/carseat.


Research for AAA’s child safety restraint survey is based on a national Internet survey of 1,000 parents with children younger than age 8.

As North America’s largest motoring and leisure travel organization, AAA provides nearly 51 million members with travel, insurance, financial and automotive-related services and member-only savings. Since its founding in 1902, the not-for-profit, fully tax-paying AAA has been a leader and advocate for the safety and security of all travelers. AAA clubs can be visited on the Internet at www.AAA.com.


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