Are Your Kids Really Safer in Car Seats?

Authors of "SuperFreakonomics" say maybe not, but safety experts not convinced.

ByABC News via logo
October 20, 2009, 12:25 AM

Oct. 20, 2009— -- Child car seats save lives, right? Maybe not, according to the authors of a new book, "SuperFreakonomics," who argue that seat belts work just as well as car seats on children more than 2 years old.

Car crashes are the leading cause of death for children between the ages of 3 and 6 years old, and 8 to 14, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration .

The NHTSA says car seats reduce fatalities by 54 percent. But it draws the comparison with children sitting in cars unrestrained and not using a seat belt.

A popular argument against using seat belts is that they do not fit kids properly. But "SuperFreakonomics" authors Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner claim that for children older than 2. there is no significant difference in the fatality rate between car seats and seat belts, 18.2 percent versus 18.1 percent respectively.

Levitt and Dubner commissioned their own crash test and found that for children 3 and 6 years old, seat belts work just as well as car seats.

"We're not telling people not to wear them," Levitt told "Good Morning America." Only that car seats are no safer than seat belts, Levitt said.

For 2-year-olds and younger, Levitt said definitely "do not throw out the car seats."

"The problems are often being addressed by solutions that are often not the best solutions," Dubner said. "If safety is the primary concern, there are better options."

But critics say that Dubner and Levitt's claims are wrong and misleading.

"It is simply false to suggest that seat belts are as good as car seats or booster seats at protecting young children in the event of a crash," Dr. Dennis Durbin at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, said.