Putting children ages 4 to 8 in car booster seats can reduce their injuries in crashes by about 60%, a study out Tuesday shows.
Booster seats position car seat belts correctly for children, protecting them from injuries that can range from facial cuts to fractured spinal cords.
The research by Children's Hospital of Philadelphia is the first real-world evidence that older children are safer in booster seats rather than seat belts alone. Nineteen states have passed laws requiring children to be in booster seats, and several more are considering them.
Age requirements vary: Pennsylvania recently passed a law requiring all kids under 8 to be in booster seats; New Jersey's new law covers children up to 6.
Children's Hospital studied children 4 through 7 years old in more than 3,500 crashes in 15 states. They found children in belt-positioning booster seats had no injuries to the abdomen, neck, spine, back or lower limbs, while children in seat belts alone had injuries to all areas of the body.
State Farm Insurance funded the study, which used claims data and phone surveys.
Children under 8 who are out of traditional child seats but not using booster seats are at risk, particularly if they put the shoulder belt behind their back or under their arm, the study shows. These children can slide under the belts in crashes and injure their abdomens and spinal cords. Brain and facial injuries were also seen in children using only adult seat belts because they hit their heads on their knees or the car's interior.
The study looked at belt-positioning booster seats, the only kind recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics. A shield-type booster seat is also sold.
Only about 20% of children 4-7 are restrained in booster seats. Pediatric emergency physician Dennis Durbin, the study's lead author, hopes the research creates ''a new sense of what should be normal in the car.''
Parents often complain it's difficult to persuade kids 5 and older to ride in booster seats and hard to find many seat choices.
''The good news is more models are finally appearing,'' says Alan Fields, co-author of the book Toddler Bargains and Web site of the same name, which review booster seats. ''Car-seat makers need to make something that looks cool for 4- to 8-year-olds, and they're trying to address that.''
High-end child-seat maker Britax is introducing a high-back booster seat soon that has side-impact protection and built-in head phones for MP3 players.
The more than 10 booster seat options available range in price from $130 for the new Britax to $25 for Evenflo's backless model. Fields notes that parents of children in car pools can choose a lower-priced model for the car pool and a better-equipped one for the family car.
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