Center for Injury Research and Prevention

Unrestrained Drivers and Child Passengers

April 23, 2019

Colleagues at Rush University Medical Center and I recently published an article in Pediatrics describing drivers’ factors related to their young passengers being unrestrained in motor vehicle crashes. We analyzed 2011–2015 Fatality Analysis Reporting System and National Automotive Sampling System data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and included vehicles with a child or adolescent passenger (<19 years old) in a crash.

We found that unrestrained drivers had a higher probability of having an unrestrained passenger across all passenger age groups for both fatal and nonfatal crashes, even after accounting for passenger sex, driver age and sex, driver alcohol impairment, and crash severity. While prior data demonstrated a similar association, those published studies were over 25 years old and contemporary estimates were necessary given the significant changes in the landscape of road traffic safety.

Our study provides further evidence that to best prevent youth being unrestrained, policies that target unrestrained drivers are necessary. One such example is primary seat belt legislation (when a driver can be stopped and cited by law enforcement solely for not wearing their seat belt), which has been shown to increase restraint use and decrease fatalities.

Additionally, it is critical for guardians to model safe behavior in the vehicle in order to optimize continued safe behaviors for their children, particularly as they progress from a pre-teen to an adolescent when they first learn how to drive.These efforts, in conjunction with policies targeting other barriers to proper restraint use in child passengers, can significantly decrease crash-related injuries and fatalities in youth passengers. Future work should continue to surveil associations between driver and child passenger road traffic safety behaviors.

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