Restraint use characteristics among crash-involved child passengers: identifying opportunities to enhance optimal restraint use

Traffic Inj Prev. 2022;23(sup1):S213-S217. doi: 10.1080/15389588.2022.2125235. Epub 2022 Sep 29.


Objective: Our objective was to describe child passenger restraint use in police reported crashes by key child and driver characteristics.

Methods: We used data from 2017-2019 police reported crashes in New Jersey to identify child passengers who: (1) were less than 13 years of age, (2) were in an identified seating location in the first, second, or third vehicle row, and (3) had a known restraint status at the time of the crash. We described prevalence of child restraint use by key child and driver characteristics (child: age, sex, seating position, and crash-reported injury status; driver: age, sex, restraint use, evidenced alcohol use, and crash fault). We included 108,780 crash-involved child passengers in our analytic sample.

Results: A small proportion of child passengers were unrestrained at the time of the crash. Most child passengers <2 years were restrained in a rear-facing restraint (59.7%). However, a sizeable proportion were either forward-facing (26.7%) or belted (11.3%). Use of booster seats among passengers age 5 to 8 years was limited. We observed few fatalities, with most children noted to have no apparent injury (89.8%). Among children with serious, minor, and possible injuries, the greatest proportion of injured children were restrained by the vehicle belt. Regarding driver characteristics, slightly more than half of child passengers riding in vehicles driven by drivers aged 21-34 years were restrained in either rear- or forward-facing restraints (53.0%), whereas the majority of children riding with younger (<21 years) or older (>34 years) drivers were restrained with the vehicle belt. Among unrestrained drivers, drivers with evidence of alcohol use, and drivers at fault for the crash, a larger proportion of children were unrestrained compared to drivers who were restrained, had no evidence of alcohol use, and were not at fault.

Conclusions: While most child passengers were restrained at the time a crash, optimal age-based restraint use was inconsistent, particularly for the youngest child passengers. A sizeable proportion of drivers in this study failed to adhere to best practice recommendations for child restraint use and New Jersey child passenger restraint laws. This was particularly true for drivers who engaged in unsafe driving behaviors, for whom a larger proportion child passengers were unrestrained at the time of the crash. Across all injury categories, the greatest proportion of injured children were restrained by the vehicle belt rather than a child restraint system, suggesting a continued need to understand specific patterns of injuries to inform possible mitigation efforts. Future work to identify intervention opportunities for optimal child restraint practices for drivers is essential to enhancing child passenger safety.

Keywords: Motor vehicle crash; child restraint system; driver characteristics; occupant protection; vehicle safety.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Accidents, Traffic
  • Alcohol Drinking
  • Automobile Driving*
  • Child
  • Child Restraint Systems*
  • Humans
  • New Jersey / epidemiology