December 16, 2005

Booster seat knowledge lags despite new law

Featured Image

Ken Malloy, from Children’s Hospital’s Emergency Department, checks out 4-year old Zaria McDonough’s car seat at a Safe Kids of Cumberland Valley car seat check.
photo by Carole Bartoo

Booster seat knowledge lags despite new law

A study by researchers at the Monroe Carell Jr. Children's Hospital at Vanderbilt indicates there may be a gap in the education of African-American and white families in the use of car seats for their children.

The study, published in the journal Injury Prevention, found that African-American children ages 4 to 8 are at particular risk of being improperly restrained in automobiles in Tennessee.

Researchers at Children's Hospital visited several sites in three Tennessee communities where drivers and their children were observed in cars to document appropriate use of child safety restraints (CSRs). The survey was performed just before a new, tougher version of Tennessee's child restraint law went into effect in 2004. A follow-up study was performed one year later. Data is still being compiled for that study but early indications are that the problem persists, even 18 months after the new child restraint law went into effect.

Veronica Gunn, M.D., assistant professor of Pediatrics at Children's Hospital, co-authored the study along with William Cooper, M.D., associate professor of Pediatrics, and Rhonda Phillippi, R.N., with the Division of Pediatric Critical Care.

“The first thing to note is that nearly twice the number of African-American children as white children ages 4 to 10 were completely unrestrained,” Gunn said. "African-American adults reported not knowing that children ages 4 to 8 need to be in booster seats as required by the new Tennessee law at a much higher rate than white adults (25 percent and 14 percent respectively)."

Gunn says this research indicates that a concerted effort needs to be made to educate at-risk families about how to use CSRs correctly to prevent serious injuries to children in motor vehicle crashes. Many parents believed their child was too large for a booster seat, while few actually were. Nearly twice as many African-American as white drivers said they don't feel they know what they need to know about the use of booster seats under Tennessee law.

“There's no doubt in my mind we still have a problem,” Gunn said. “The problem is two-fold; knowing how to appropriately restrain your child in a car is difficult. Also, the difference in the level of knowledge about the law and use of the restraints between African-American and white families indicates the messages are not being distributed effectively in all communities.”

The key now, Gunn said, is for the state to invest more heavily in educating the public, especially African-American families, about the proper restraint of children.