York/SickKids study shows booster seat laws are saving children

Booster seat laws significantly reduce the number of child deaths in the most serious head-on motor vehicle accidents, a study led by York University and The Hospital for Sick Children (SickKids) has shown.

"We know that booster seats reduce injuries to children, and that laws increase their use," says Alison Macpherson, a professor in York’s School of Kinesiology & Health Science. "What this study shows is that laws requiring booster seats reduce child deaths in fatal crashes – crashes in which someone dies."

Right: The study, led by York University and SickKids, found that laws mandating the use of booster seats reduce child deaths in fatal crashes. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

"Booster seat laws and child fatalities: a case-control study" appears in the October 2009 issue of the journal Injury Prevention. York alumna Pamela Farmer (MSc ’07) led the study, under the supervision of Macpherson, with co-principal investigator Dr. Andrew Howard, a staff orthopedic surgeon and scientist at SickKids and professor in the Department of Surgery and the Department of Health Policy, Management & Evaluation at the University of Toronto.

The study sample included 14,571 children, aged 4 to 8 years, who were involved in fatal motor vehicle collisions in the US between 1995 and 2005. Of the 14,571 children who were involved in these head-on crashes, 1,835 died (12.6 per cent).

By February 2007, 38 states and the District of Columbia had enacted booster seat laws. The study by York University and SickKids shows this type of legislation is an effective way to decrease child fatalities and increase correct restraint use.

"Our study found that booster seats reduce deaths by about 20 per cent," says Howard, administrative director of the Trauma Program at SickKids. "However, this may be a conservative estimate of the benefits because we looked only at crashes in which someone is killed. It did not include children who were in booster seats in accidents – some of them serious – in which no one was killed."

Farmer’s analysis of the US statistics found that children in states with booster seat laws are much more likely to be restrained in either a seatbelt or a booster seat.

"We also found that in states with the laws, children aged 4 to 8 are much more likely to be restrained in age-appropriate booster seats," says Farmer, "and booster seats were more protective than seatbelts alone."