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21 percent of kids who die in car crashes in Minnesota are not properly restrained, study finds

In the study, 20 percent of the children involved in fatal car crashes — and 43 percent of those who die in such crashes — were not buckled in properly, and 13 percent were inappropriately seated in the front seat of the vehicle.

The likelihood that children will die in a motor vehicle crash varies substantially from state to state, according to a study recently published in the Journal of Pediatrics.

The rate of such deaths is highest in the South and lowest in the Northeast. But many Midwestern states — including Minnesota — also have relatively high rates.

This study seems particularly pertinent this Memorial Day weekend, as we begin what the Minnesota Department of Public Safety (DPS) calls “the 100 deadliest days on Minnesota’s roads.”

What is particularly disturbing about the new study’s findings is how many of the children who died were not properly secured with seat belts and appropriate child car seats at the time of the accident. In the study, 20 percent of the children involved in fatal car crashes — and 43 percent of those who die in such crashes — were not buckled in properly, and 13 percent were inappropriately seated in the front seat of the vehicle.

Minnesota law requires children to be in a child restraint until they are 4 feet 9 inches tall or until they are at least 8 years old, whichever comes first. The misuse of child car seats and booster seats is widespread, however. According to information gathered by the Minnesota DPS at child-seat clinics held around the state, three out of four child restraints are used incorrectly in Minnesota.

Furthermore, unlike some other states, Minnesota does not have a law prohibiting children sitting in the front seat of a vehicle. The Minnesota DPS recommends that no child under the age of 13 sit in the front seat.

Study details

The new study, which was led by a team of researchers at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, is based on National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) data from 2010 to 2014. The researchers found that during those years, 18,116 children under the age of 15 were involved in a car crash on a public road in which someone died. In almost 16 percent of those crashes, at least one of the deaths involved a child (2,885 children in all).

That meant the national fatality rate was .94 per 100,000 children.

The majority — 52 percent — of the children in the study who died in a fatal car crash lived in the South, while 21 percent lived in the West, 19 percent in the Midwest and 7.5 percent in the Northeast. 

The region with the highest fatality rate — the highest number of children under the age of 15 who died in a car crash compared to the total number of children living in the region — was also the South: It had 1.34 deaths per 100,000 children. The Midwest was second, however, with 0.89 deaths per 100,000 children, followed by the West (0.76 per 100,000) and the Northeast (0.38 per 100,000).

State variations in the fatality rate were even greater, ranging from 0.25 in Massachusetts to 3.24 in Mississippi.

The fatality rate for Minnesota’s children was 0.71. In 21 percent of those cases, the child was not properly restrained.

Main factors

In addition to the non-use or misuse of seat belts and child seats, rural roads also appeared to play a role in the deaths of children in car crashes. Across the country, children were more likely to die on rural roads than on urban ones.

In Minnesota, 74 percent of fatal crashes involving a child occurred on rural roads.

However, of all the 20 or so different policy-specific variables that the researchers looked at in their analysis, one stood out: state laws on “red-light cameras” — cameras that photograph drivers running red lights and automatically issue tickets.

Children living in states with no red-light-camera laws have a fourfold greater risk of dying in a car crash than those who live in states with such laws, the study found.

Minnesota does not have any such laws.

FMI: An abstract of the study can be found on the Journal of Pediatrics’ website, but the full study is behind a paywall. You’ll find detailed information about keeping kids safe in cars and other vehicles at the Minnesota Department of Public Safety’s website. The information includes instructional videos about installing car seats.

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