Child deaths in autos on decline

ALBANY HERALD EDITORIAL: Per capita deaths of children in traffic wrecks drops 43 percent 2002-2011

A report Tuesday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that traveling in cars has gotten dramatically less deadly for children over a 10-year period, but also showed that about a third of the more than 9,000 children who died during the study period weren’t properly buckled in.

Another note of concern was that the incidents of child deaths in vehicles in which they were unsecured with seat belts or protective car seats over the period from 2002 until 2011 were much higher for African-American and Hispanic children than white children.

According to a report Tuesday by Reuters News Service, the CDC study based on data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration examined deaths for the period for children up to 12 years old. During that time, 9,182 children died in car wrecks, but the number dropped sharply from 2002, when there were 2.2 per capita, to 2011, when there were 1.2 deaths per 100,000 people.

“The good news is motor vehicle deaths decreased by 43 percent over the past decade for children age 12 and younger. The tragic news is still with that decrease, more than 9,000 kids were killed on the road in this period,” CDC Director Thomas Frieden told reporters in a telephone news conference reported Tuesday by Reuters. “Thousands of children are at risk on the road because they are not buckled up.”

With that many deaths coming to children who were not being protected by safety belts or safety seats, CDC officials said many more deaths likely could be prevented by employing those measures.

Also, of the more than 9,000 deaths during the 10-year period, the percentage of children who were not buckled in or in a protective car seat when they died was much higher for African Americans and Hispanics. About one in four of white children who died (26 percent) were not properly restrained. The percentage was approaching one-half of deaths for African Americans (45 percent) and Hispanics (46 percent).

The study didn’t delve into why the percentages for minorities are so much higher. It does, however, indicate to us that a better job of education is needed in those areas. And it turns out adults need to be reminded that older children still need to be buckled in.

That’s because the CDC report found that seat belt/car seat use among children 7 years old and younger was up 3 percent, from 88 percent compliance in 2002 to 91 percent in 2011, older children are not as likely to be buckled in.

A parent’s biggest concern — and the biggest of any adult operating a motor vehicle, for that matter — always should be the safety of children who are passengers. And a big part of that is ensuring that the child or children are being protected in the manner appropriate for their ages.

The CDC says an infant under 2 years old should be in a rear-facing, secured car seat, then move to a front-facing car seat until they reach their fifth birthday or have reached the upper limit for weight or height for the older children’s seat. Kids 5 and older should use a booster seat to ensure the adult seat belts and shoulder straps in the vehicle fit them properly.

It’s easy to not take the time to perform these basic tasks when the parent or adult is “just running down to the store” or “just going a few blocks.” But the easy choice of convenience can lead to disaster and a lifetime of guilt.

Children depend on adults to do the right thing. Don’t let them down.

The Albany Herald Editorial Board