Despite Progress, Still Too Many Child Passengers Riding at Risk in Front Seat, Say Researchers from The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia

04/8/2003

WASHINGTON, April 8 /PRNewswire/ -- Researchers from The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, who lead a national research project called Partners for Child Passenger Safety (PCPS), today presented findings that demonstrate one-third of children ages 9 to 12 and 10 percent of 4- to 8-year olds are sitting in the front seat. The study, funded by State Farm Insurance Companies, found that exposure of children to deployed passenger airbags doubled between 1999 and 2002. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) recommends that children under age 13 be seated in the rear.

"Our research has shown that children sitting up front and exposed to deployed airbags are twice as likely to suffer a significant injury than those not exposed," states Flaura K. Winston, M.D., Ph.D., principal investigator of PCPS. NHTSA research has demonstrated that airbags have safety benefits for adults.

"The best way to protect children is to restrain them in the rear seat in an appropriate restraint for their age and size. We need to do a better job of reinforcing the message of rear seating for children under age 13," Winston continued.

According to Dr. Winston, these findings suggest that current efforts to improve passenger airbag design to reduce risk of injury to children are well justified because children continue to sit in the front seat. "Going forward, PCPS will monitor how improved airbag design impacts child occupants of newer vehicles involved in crashes," stated Dr. Winston.

The 2003 Interim Report from PCPS provides a look at very recent trends in child occupant protection as well as in-depth analyses on injury mechanisms that are drawn from its national surveillance system. Among key findings:

-- In early 1999, for every 10,000 children in crashes, 73 children were exposed to an airbag deployment. By the end of 2002, that figure rose to 148 per 10,000 children. The researchers attribute the trend to two factors. For one, the percentage of vehicles in the PCPS study equipped with passenger airbags increased from half of all vehicles in 1999 to more than 80 percent in 2002. Secondly, in 2002, 12 percent of all children under age 13 were still riding in the front seat.

-- One-third of children between 9 and 12 years continue to sit in the front seat. This trend did not change significantly between 1999 and 2002.

-- By the end of 2002, 49 percent of children between the ages of 3 and 8 who were restrained were using child restraints, as compared to 25 percent in 1999.

-- Increases in age-appropriate restraint for 4- to 8-year-old children appear to be accompanied by increases in rear seating - a combination that provides the best protection in crashes for this age group.

-- Children who were restrained in seat belts were 3.5 times more likely to suffer an abdominal injury compared to optimally restrained children. The use of belt-positioning booster seats virtually eliminated abdominal injuries among children 4 to 8 years old who were restrained in booster seats.

"These trends indicate that education and legislative efforts have been effective at getting more children into age-appropriate restraints, which translates into our children being safer in vehicles," states Peggy Echols, Vice President Public Affairs, State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Company. "However, our work remains -- we must continue these efforts to improve the safety of all of our children."

For parents, Dr. Winston offers four simple steps to optimize safety for children riding in motor vehicles: 1) Restrain children on every trip; 2) Use the rear seat for all children under age 13; 3) Use the appropriate restraint for age and size; 4) Use the restraints correctly. "With each step taken, our data indicate a significant reduction in risk of injury to children in crashes," states Dr. Winston.

Partners for Child Passenger Safety (PCPS) is a multi-year research collaboration among The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, State Farm Insurance Companies and the University of Pennsylvania. PCPS compiles and analyzes data on real-world crashes involving children by combining State Farm claims information with detailed telephone interviews and on-site crash investigations. Since 1997, PCPS has created a database containing information on more than 300,000 crashes involving more than 200,000 children. It has become the largest source of data on children in motor vehicle crashes. PCPS is based at The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia and is funded by State Farm.

Founded in 1855 as the nation's first pediatric hospital, The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia is ranked today as the best pediatric hospital in the nation by a comprehensive "Child" magazine survey. Through its long-standing commitment to providing exceptional patient care, training new generations of pediatric healthcare professionals and pioneering major research initiatives, Children's Hospital has fostered many discoveries that have benefited children worldwide. Its pediatric research program is among the largest in the country, ranking second in National Institutes of Health funding. In addition, its unique family-centered care and public service programs have brought the 381-bed hospital recognition as a leading advocate for children and adolescents from before birth through age 19. Children's Hospital operates the largest pediatric healthcare system in the U.S. with more than 40 locations in Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware. "The State of Child Occupant Protection, Interim Report 2003" was released by PCPS at a briefing on Capitol Hill for legislative aides and others, co- hosted by Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety.

Contact: Suzanne Hill of The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, +1-215-590-1417 or hillsu@email.chop.edu; or Zoe Younker, State Farm, +1-309-766-5242 or zoe.younker.i813@statefarm.com.