Research In Action

Research In Action

child in rear facing car seat
A Review of the Safety Impact of Child Passenger Laws

Legislation has been a vital strategy to increase awareness and compliance with child passenger safety (CPS) best practices. While CPS laws are often based on findings from previous research, they vary widely across states and countries making it difficult to determine their overall success.

To this end, my colleagues and I conducted what is, to our knowledge, the first systematic review of CPS laws to examine whether laws increase the number of children riding in car seats, increase accurate or appropriate car seat use, and reduce the number of child passenger injuries or fatalities. The study, co-authored with CIRP’s Leah Lombardi, MPH and Jessica Mirman, PhD of the University of Edinburgh, was recently published in Injury Prevention.

We reviewed 18 studies from five countries – the US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and Chile – that evaluated the effects of CPS laws. Overall, after CPS laws were passed, studies reported increases in overall rates of car seat use and correct car seat use, as well as decreases in child passenger injuries and fatalities.

These positive findings, however, may not always apply to individuals who identify as racial/ethnic minority, lower income, or have attained a lower level of education. Specifically, the studies we reviewed widely reported that these populations were more likely to prematurely transition children to booster seats after CPS laws were passed. Read more about previously published research that revealed potential safety benefits to delaying graduation to a booster seat.

Ensuring that car seats are affordable, accessible, and have instructions that are clear to all populations will help with uptake and accuracy in use.

How CPS Laws Influence Different Populations

In the current study, the nuances in how CPS laws influence different populations suggest that new laws should be implemented with effective information dissemination strategies, such as those that are tailored to specific groups, in multiple languages, and are available across multiple platforms (e.g., online, paper, in-person). Additionally, ensuring that car seats are affordable, accessible, and have instructions that are clear to all populations will help with both uptake and accuracy in use.

An additional consideration is that all studies included in this review are from developed countries; more information on what laws exists in less developed countries—as well as how these laws affect child passenger safety outcomes—is needed.