Is There a Difference in Child Passenger Safety Practices Between Mothers and Fathers?

December 30, 2013

Historically, there has been limited research on the child passenger safety practices of mother versus father drivers. With this in mind, I along with my collaborators Michael Kallan, MS and Flaura Winston, MD, PhD, utilized real-world data from CIRP@CHOP’s Partners for Child Passenger Safety study to explore differences in restraint patterns, front row seating practices, and crash-related injury for children when driving with their mothers and their fathers in an article published this month in Injury Prevention.

Our study examined information from crashes in 16 US states and was limited to child occupants under age 16 driven by a parent. Among the findings, results showed that children under age 9 years were more likely to be unrestrained or sub-optimally restrained when driven by their father versus their mother. Children under age 13 years were also more likely to be seated in the front seat with their fathers (which was related to fathers being five times more likely to be driving a pickup truck). However, despite the apparent lack of best practice child passenger safety methods used by fathers, there was no difference found in crash-related injury risk for children between father and mother drivers.

Although it is alarming that nearly 30% of children driving with their fathers were unrestrained or sub-optimally restrained, there is positive action we can take to address this safety “gap” between mother and father drivers. Parents who have questions about the installation of child restraint systems or best practice recommendations should be encouraged to attend a local car seat check. Here at CHOP, our Kohl’s Injury Prevention Program partners with the Safe Kids Buckle Up Program and our local chapter of Safe Kids to provide car seat inspections and educational resources to families. I spoke with a few members of the Kohl’s Injury Prevention Program team to find out more about the attendees at their inspection stations. They typically have about a 60/40 split of mothers/fathers attending the inspections, and it is more common to see both parents attend the event together if they are having their first child. Interestingly, I was also told that sometimes men are more receptive to the recommendations from child passenger safety technicians, as some women defer to their friends or online resources for information.

This anecdotally suggests that fathers may not lack safety consciousness, but rather may need additional support and education in CPS best practices. The safety community should continue to raise awareness about free car seat inspections, online resources such as CHOP and Safe Kids, best practices from the American Academy of Pediatrics, and state CPS laws so that all parents understand the importance of restraining their child correctly, on every trip.